Zhadi's Den

Random essays on wine, writing, moving to San Francisco, surfing, cats (exotic and otherwise) and zombies...depending on my mood.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Night in the Slammer

About a year ago, I spent the night in L.A. County Jail. It was a once (I hope) in a lifetime experience (not in a good way) and the impact, including the emotional aftershocks, changed the course of my life, was part of a wake-up call that ended up with me moving to San Francisco, and hey, it's about wine too!

I got through the night by treating it as research for writing; I planned on writing everything down as soon as I got out. It took me four months after the fact before I could stand to revisit L.A. County, even on paper. Once I started to write about it, though, the words poured out in what any therapist would no doubt call a cathartic process or something even fancier in psyche speak. This is the short version.

“I want to die! Je-sus, just strike me down now!”
I jerked awake after an hour or so of tossing and turning on the concrete floor of Holding Cell C in the Los Angeles County Jail, thanks to anguished yells coming from the next room.

“I’m shit! Just lemme di-i-e!”

The man’s voice rose to a mournful howl that echoed through the cement and safety glass walls, then faded off into a bout of drunken weeping. Oh well, no great loss. Try sleeping on cold concrete with nothing but two thin hand towels for padding and one draped across your shoulders for warmth and you’ll see what I mean.

I lay on the floor, eyes burning from exhaustion, and thought, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

A few hours earlier that evening, I’d been having dinner with a friend. We’d shared a bottle of wine with dinner, sat for several hours over coffee and dessert and then headed to our respective home around midnight. I’d been up since six that morning, was getting cramps and was anxious to get home so when the car next to me was driving just the wrong speed in order for me to change lanes, I sped up to 80 mph for a few brief seconds to go around it. Big mistake.

. WHOOP! WHOOP! Red and blue lights flashed behind me.

Oh shit. I’d passed a CHP trap car.

He tailed me over to the side of the freeway and a disembodied voice ordered “exit on Glendale Blvd.,.”

I parked on the side of a median (with an embankment), my stomach sinking into my feet as I faced the prospect of what would no doubt be a hefty fine for speeding. I found my driver’s license and registration, rolled down the window and waited.

A flashlight beam shone through the driver’s side window. “Now why would you speed past me like that?” The CHP’s (we’ll just call him Officer Z) tone was disbelief, accompanied by a disappointed little shake of his head as if I’d somehow let him down.

“I didn’t notice that you were a cop,” I answered honestly, if perhaps not wisely.

“Have you had anything to drink this evening?

I didn’t think anything of it. “Yeah, wine with dinner a few hours ago.”

Little did I know that my honesty was also the death knell of my unblemished record as a law abiding citizen.

Within 10 minutes I’d completed a battery of roadside sobriety tests at 12:30am in high heeled wedge sandals on a gravelly embankment. The only test that gave me any trouble was standing on my right leg, lifting my left knee at a right angle with the ground and holding it for 10 seconds. May I just repeat three-inch wedge heels? I was fine once he let me take my shoes off, holding it well past the count of 10.

Officer Z, however, wasn’t convinced of my sobriety (considering the money involved in a successful DUI conviction, I’m not surprised) and pulled out the breathalyzer. He didn’t
like the way I blew the first time and told me to do it again and blow more air into the mouthpiece. I blew again and he liked the results. “0.12. You’re over the limit. You’re going go have to come with me to the station."

With that, Officer Z very politely asked me turn around so he could handcuff my hands behind my back.

This was insane. I wasn’t a party animal, I was a wine enthusiast. I didn’t drink to get drunk, hated the feeling, in fact. I drank for the taste and experience of wine, the sort of person who yes, swirls the glass and sniffs the bouquet. The kind of gal who quietly makes fun of people whose idea of a really good wine is Beringer White Zinfandel. While the latter might make me a snob, it didn’t make me an alcoholic

After a female officer arrived to search me (complete with rubber gloves in case I was hiding drug paraphernalia) and a tow truck pulled up to haul my beloved Saturn off to a police impound yard, Officer Z took me to the CHP station, a non-descript building tucked away on a side street, made conspicuous only by the number of black and white squad cars in the parking lot. Inside, Officer Z uncuffed me so I could use the bathroom.

I took care of business and found out that because I had been out of Officer’s Z’s sight, I had to wait an additional 15 minutes to take the second breath test. Why? I might have drunk some water in the bathroom and it would change the results. 15 minutes later it was determined that I was still over the limit and would now be visiting the lovely Los Angeles County Jail for the rest of the night. Back on went the handcuffs for another trip in the squad car.

By this time I was worried about what my husband might be thinking, if he woke and discovered that I wasn’t home yet. No phone call until I was processed into L.A. County.


From an underground parking lot in downtown we entered a sterile room with a long table on one side and a row of ugly plastic chairs lined up opposite the table. There were three countered windows with uniformed staff behind glass, a gap underneath to pass things back and forth,, like the set up at gas stations to protect the cashiers from an armed hold-up. The floor was battered linoleum, the walls gray or green cement and it was all bleakly lit with florescent track lighting. I sat on one of the chairs, hands still uncomfortably cuffed behind my back. As much fun as I’ve had with handcuffs on previous occasions, strike all future cop fantasies from my sexual to-do list.

I waited while Officer Z filled out a small novel’s worth of paperwork. More officers came in with their own prisoners, including two tough as nails women, a shaven head gang-banger with blood on his face, wearing jeans so baggy they practically screamed “Pants me!” and a scruffy older man that probably sent the breathalyzer reading off the charts with beer fumes alone.
None of it seemed real.

Officer Z finally called me over and removed the handcuffs. His pile of paperwork included a list of all of my personal possessions, all of which had to be removed and put into small plastic bags. The only thing I was allowed to keep was my wedding ring only because I couldn’t get it off my finger. I signed my name next to the list and Officer Z took the sheaf of papers up to one of the windows and handed them over, along with the bags. I watched as my wallet and jewelry vanished into the bowels of L.A. County and wondered if everything would be there when they were returned to me.

I had to put my hands behind my back for one last walk through the parking lot to another door, down a hallway to a large room with a long counter separating the Sheriff Deputies’ work station from a walkway with different colored stripes running the length of it, each one branching off into a different doorway or lettered window. . Three or four Sheriff’s Deputies, male and female, lounged behind the counter. Night shift at L.A. County.

On the other side of the walkway were a bunch of benches and chairs behind a steel railway and beyond that, a medic’s station. An ominous looking chair with straps like something from some dominatrix’ living room sat by itself off in one corner

Can’t say my parting from Officer Z was such sweet sorrow. I spoke briefly to a female deputy, who was friendly enough. I was a far cry from the usual guests at L.A. County and I’m sure by that time I was looking as lost as I’d started to feel. I asked her how long I’d be in and if I could make a phone call. She told me that there were phones in the holding cell and to tell whoever was picking me up that I should be out by 7:00 AM at the latest. I thought I’d be fingerprinted and photographed, but instead I was told to follow the (green) line into Room C.

I had visions of a jail cell with a cot, a sink and a bucket (okay, maybe I’d seen too many Caged Heat type movies over the years), so I was taken aback when I followed the green painted line through a doorway into a room with no bars and no doors. It was about 10 by 20 feet, had two small toilet cubicles partitioned off with cement walls about four feet high against the back wall. Four rows of thin metal benches no more than a foot in width ran the length of the room. All four walls were cement about four feet high. then glass up to the ceiling. There were three other women already there, two of them the tough looking customers that had been brought in while Officer Z was filling out paperwork. I briefly wondered how they’d gotten there ahead of me, but my attention was distracted by the phones hanging on the walls. I grabbed the nearest one, barely pausing to read the instructions before dialing home.

The phone rang several times before our answering machine picked up. I heard the sound of my voice. “We can’t come to the phone right now, but please leave your name—”

“Hello.” A mechanical voice cut in, overlapping with my voice message. “This is a call from a California Correctional Facility. You have a collect phone call from—” The robotic voice paused politely, waiting for me to state my name.

“Dana.” I said confidently, sure that my husband would pick up. But my own recorded voice continued, “—and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”


I slammed the receiver down in frustration. We didn’t have a phone in the bedroom and Brian was a very sound sleeper. I decided to wait a few minutes and try again. I sat down on one of the cold metal benches and glanced over at the other three women, who were all looking at me. I gave a little wave, too tired and depressed to wonder if I was about to have the crap beaten out of me. But they were more curious than hostile.

One of them, a plump black woman, said, “What are you in for?”

I have to say those were five words I never expected to hear in serious conversation.

One of the other women nodded wisely. “Yeah, I’ve got two of those. Is this your first time?”

I nodded.

“Thought so.”

I wondered what gave away the fact that I wasn’t a hardened felon. Maybe it was the pink sweater.

“You’ll be out of here in the morning,” said a skinny blonde.

God, I hoped so.

The three of them started talking amongst themselves and I got the sense that they’d all done jail time before. I tried the phone again, willing Brian to answer the phone, but no luck. My own voice picked up and when I left my name, it was definitely more plaintive this time around.
By this time I had to pee again so I investigated one of the cubicles. It was spattered with urine and vomit. My stomach did a nasty flip flop and I backed out quickly and went to the one on the other side. It was relatively clean, nothing nasty lurking in the corners, so I did my business as well as I could given that the top half of me was clearly visible through the cell windows. I tried to ignore the insistent cramps that had started to build in intensity and prayed that my period would hold off until I was safely at home.

My three cellmates were all lying down on the benches. They all had small white towels that they were using as makeshift pillows. I wondered where they’d gotten them. One of the women was snoring.

I decided to follow their example and stretched out on what was apparently one of Torquemada’s helpers. You could lie on your back with your legs hanging off either side, feet on the floor. You could either hang your arms down as well or fold them across your chest like a vampire in a coffin. There wasn’t room for any other options. Either way, you would experience a gradual and increasingly annoying awareness of the ever so slight raise in the center of the bench. Or you could try lying on your side just so, knowing that any false move would throw off your balance and land you on the concrete. Sitting on them was equally uncomfortable, at least to anyone with a butt larger than that of a skinny five year old. I finally gave up and went back to one of the phones. Five or six fruitless attempts later, I stalked over to the bench nearest the doorway and stared at the wall.

Ick. There was something smeared all over the concrete that looked suspiciously like baby shit. I didn’t think it was; there wasn’t any odor, but I couldn’t imagine what else it could be. I leaned my head into my hands, massaging away the beginnings of a headache. I was dehydrated as well and knew that a migraine was in my future if I didn’t get some water. Since there weren’t any handy water fountains or vending machines around, I drank some out of the sink in the bathroom, using my hand as a cup. I tried not to think about what might be swimming around in the plumbing system.

A female SD (Sheriff Deputy) came into the room carrying a pile of clothes, baggy pants with elasticized waists and shapeless short-sleeved, v-necked tops made out of some cotton/poly mix. Christ, was I gonna have to change into prison blues? Nope, the SD didn’t even glance at me as she handed out a pair of the world’s ugliest pajamas to each of the other women, along with a large plastic bag for their street clothes. They weren’t allowed to wear the shirt out over the pants, but had to tuck into the waistband. My fashion sense was outraged.

The three women followed the SD out of the room, hands behind their backs. I was left alone to my own devices. I was so tired. All I could think of was my bed, down comforter and pillows.
The three towels were lying abandoned on the floor. A far cry from down and flannel, but what the hell. Spreading two towels down on the concrete, I curled up on my side and draped the remaining towel over my shoulders. My back muscles screamed in protest as the cold seeped through the thin terrycloth and my mind kept spinning in circles, wondering what to tell my mom.

From my vantage point on the floor I could see a wall clock out in the hallway. 2:45. Brian must be thinking I was dead by now. I went back to the phone banks and tried again, Brian picked up immediately. Turns out he’d woken up, realized four cats were in bed next to him instead of me and checked the phone messages. There were nine of them, all with that nasty mechanical correctional facility message and me giving my name, each increasingly pathetic until by the last one I was practically crying. Hearing his voice perked me up enough to say, “Hi, honey. I’m in the slammer.”

A brief silence on the other end. “What happened?”

I told him. I’d been dreading this moment, wondering how I’d deal with his disappointment. But there was only relief that I was okay and that no one was hurt. He told me loved me and that he’d be waiting outside the Big House for me at 6:30.

“Ah, Johnny, you’re swell! I love ya, ya big palooka!” I hung up, relieved to find my sense of humor still functional, even in jail.

Now that one worry had been taken off my shoulders, I lay back down on the ground, huddled under my towel and eventually managed to fall into an uneasy doze. Normally one must try and sleep on a crowded Greyhound bus full of teething babies to get that quality of sleep. Then the drunken howling began and that ended Dana in Slumberland.

“Won’t you just kill me, Jeeee-sus!”

I lay there with my eyes still closed and listened to the voices from the next room.

“Yo, Jack, help me get this guy in the chair. “

The chair? What, the comfy chair? The electric chair?

A chuckle, followed by, ‘Yeah, that oughta cool him down. You hold him, I’ll get the straps.”

Jeez, they were talking about the S&M chair. The resulting howls and swearing from the drunken nutcase being strapped down made me think of the days when the public used to tour the prisons and asylums to see the crazy folk. This guy was one hell of a greeting for incoming prisoners. The fact that the deputies were laughing at him made it even more sick and bizarre. I wanted my husband. I wanted my mom. I wanted my cats. I wanted out.

Mr. Just Kill Me Jesus’s howls faded to intermittent muttering and crying, eventually becoming pretty impressive snores. But no sooner had I drifted off again when I was called out to be fingerprinted and photographed. I stumbled to my feet, my muscles and joints locked up from the concrete and cold.

The fingerprinting process was computerized. No more messy ink to deal with. The SD just pressed my fingers against a little screen, which transmitted the prints into the computer It was a persnickety machine, though, and refused to read my right index finger three times. I wondered if that would help me evade capture if I ever had to go on the lam.

When they took my photo (one shot head on, the other profile), I kept hearing Holly Hunter’s character from Raising Arizona in my head. “Turn to the right.” I didn’t want to think of what these pictures would look like after nearly 20 hours without sleep, hair unbrushed, the remnants of the previous day’s makeup still clinging to my face. I’d have killed for a toothbrush.

I was told to go back in the holding cell until it was time to process me out. 3:50. I tried sleeping again, but couldn’t manage it. My brain was wide awake. I wondered how much this was going to cost me in fines when all was said and done, not to mention what it would do to my car insurance. Being fingerprinted and having my mugshot taken was like being slapped in the face with reality. I wanted to slap back.

The rest of the time in the holding cell faded into a numb blur of watching the foot traffic past the doorway down the hallway. As it grew later, the traffic increased, a parade of men in either blue or orange pushing carts, some filled with laundry, others with food. One of the men stopped by my cell and started to hand me a boxed juice (or juice flavored beverage), but was told “Not her” by one of the SDs. “No soup for you!” Fine. I sat on the bench, staring out into the hallway like a dog waiting anxiously for its walk..

At 6:00 I was told to go to Window A, where I filled out some paperwork. The man behind the window was one of the only friendly people working at L.A. County. The guy at the Medic’s station, my next stop to make sure that I didn’t have any medical issues, was nice enough too.
“You ready to get out of here?” he said with a smile.
“Do I need to answer that?”
He shook his head and wished me luck.
I sat in the waiting area and cooled my heels for another half hour or so as prison traffic increased. A male SD told me that they should finish processing me in a few minutes, then left as the morning shift came on duty. The men seemed more interested in playing with the S&M chair than doing any paperwork. One of them asked me if I wanted to ‘test it out.’ I politely declined. Either the chair was a new addition or the novelty of it hadn’t worn off yet. It was very Reno 911, except without the charm.
I was getting increasingly antsy. I still had some hopes of getting out in time to make it into work, but it was increasingly hard to be patient. What was the hold up here?
Another woman in street clothes was brought out, a thin blonde in her ‘40s with a cut on her forehead. I watched as they fingerprinted her. She was loud and irascible and I wondered if she was drunk. She wasn’t, as I found out when she sat down next to me. Jade (not her real name, but close enough for government work) was just naturally obstreperous and had, in fact, been brought into L.A. County on her second DUI around 6:00PM last night. She’d been driving home after lunch with a friend, had been involved in a hit and run (she was the hittee, not the runner), but because of her previous DUI, had been tested and was .01 over the legal limit. What a pisser.
Finally after another endless half hour of waiting, Jade and I were told to go with a pair of female SDs. One walked in front of us, the other guarding the rear. We had to walk with our hands behind our backs again and it just felt plain silly, like a kid’s game. We walked up a ramp, hugging the right side of the wall, past an open door.
“Ooh, donuts!” SD#1 in the rear vanished into the room as, oblivious, SD#2 in front kept walking.
We reached a turn in the ramp and she stopped, perplexed. “Now where did she go?”
SD#1 reappeared, shoving the last of a donut into her mouth.
The two SDs were very good cop/bad cop as they studied our paperwork on the way up the ramp. “What were the two of you thinking, driving drunk?” said one. “Don’t you know there’s kids playing out there?” I refrained from pointing out the improbability of running over frolicking children while driving on I-5 at midnight.
“What did you blow?” asked the other, and “Oh, that’s over the limit, Dana,” when I told her. “You need to be more careful.”
“I thought waiting three hours before driving was being careful,” I snapped, tired of the lecture. Rationally I knew that these people had no way of differentiating between me and the average drunk on the road, but it still pissed me off because part of me felt that they should just know better, that I was one of the good guys and didn’t deserve to be in this situation.
Nothing else was said, but the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. could and would hold you longer if you pissed them off and I wonder if that’s why I ended up sitting in a cell with a rotating number of 10 to 40 women at any given time for another 8 hours instead of being released immediately, which, as I found out later, was supposed to be the case.
When we reached the top of the ramp, Jade and I handed our paperwork to a woman at a table. We were each given numbers and I felt a huge weight off my shoulders; I couldn’t wait for this nightmare to be over with. It was about 7:30 and I could just make it to work on time if it didn’t take very long to get my belongings and just took a quick rinse when I got home. Just enough hot water to wash the stink of L.A. County off of me.
“Go into the room on your left.”
I did so, followed by Jade, expecting to get my wallet back and be on my merry little way. Instead we found ourselves in a small concrete cell with about 20 other women, most of them tough looking customers in baggy prison blues. Some of them had clear plastic bags filled with toiletries and food. There were benches along the walls and a single toilet partially hidden from view by a low concrete wall. The smell was not pretty.
Most of the women were African American or Latina, maybe 80 percent or more. This was true throughout the day as the room’s population continually dwindled and then replenished as women were released and more brought in to wait. There were two other whitebread types in there besides me and Jade. One of them, a strawberry blonde in her 20s, sat with her feet up on the bench, arms wrapped protectively around her knees. Her expression was definitely ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ I could relate.
I sat next to a very large black woman, who smiled at me before continuing her conversation with a dainty featured Latino girl leaning against the wall. “You just believe in God and He’ll take care of you, you know that.”
The Latino girl nodded. “I just keep telling myself that God’ll come through and it’ll be okay. I just gotta have faith.”
“You know I’ll be praying for you, babydoll.”
The door opened and we all looked up expectantly. A bored looking female SD called out numbers and handed out bags of clothes to the corresponding inmates. Several others, already in their street clothes, were told to line up at the door. “You will step outside and hug the yellow line. If you look back or speak, you will be put back in this room.” Jade and I were not called.
A half hour passed. Jade asked the room at large how long people had been waiting. The strawberry blonde looked up wearily and replied, “Two hours.”
My heart sank. Two hours? I’d never make it to work on time. And what about my husband, sitting out there and waiting for me? “Can they make you wait longer than that?” I asked.
The woman next to me laughed. “This is your first time, ain’t it?”
I nodded.
“Honey, they can make you wait long as they want. You just make sure you don’t piss ‘em off none ‘cause they’ll add an extra hour or so just to show you who’s boss. And it ain’t you!”
Shit. I may have very well bought myself an extra hour’s time (yeah, I was already thinking like a hardened criminal) with my backtalk to the SD in the hall.
The strawberry blonde smiled at me sympathetically. I went over and introduced myself. We exchanged DUI war stories. Tina was also in for a DUI, although she’d been on pain killers for an injury when she was pulled over, not alcohol. She’d had two children with her at the time so she’d also been up for child endangerment. Her lawyer had plea-bargained and gotten that particular charge dismissed, but she’d gotten hit with all the other maximum penalties for first-time offenders: $1300 fine, mandatory DUI classes, which cost another $600 dollars, community service at Caltrans, and two additional days of jail time. “I could have done one day at the morgue and another in a private jail if I’d paid another $200,” she told me. “But I waited too long and ended up having to come back here.”
I thought I was going to throw up as I listened to the possible worse case scenario that waited for me. My husband and I had just paid off our car and were looking forward to an extra $350 a month. This was the only point during my entire stay in jail where I came close to tears as I realized how well and truly I may have just fucked up.
Tina saw my face, reached out a hand and squeezed my arm. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
I took a deep breath. “It’s okay. I’d rather know the worst sooner instead of later.”
Tina and I talked about our lives and discovered that we were both writers and were looking at this experience as great fodder for material. “I’ve just been listening to everything talking,” she said in a low voice. “It’s just crazy.” She nodded toward the petite Latino girl on the opposite side of the room. “She was with a friend during a drive-by shooting. Her friend did the shooting. She,” meaning the girl in the room, “just found out that she got life with no parole even though she didn’t pull the trigger.”
I looked at the girl in question. She couldn’t be more than 20. “Why is she in the release tank?”
Tina shrugged. “Being processed.”
Okay. Making this young girl, who hadn’t even committed the crime in question, wait in a room where everyone else was getting handed their street clothes and on their way out the door…well, dude, this is pretty fucked up right here.
“And she has a little boy. The judge wouldn’t even let her hold him after she was sentenced.”
I had no words for that.
An emaciated, nearly toothless woman -- she could have been anywhere from 40 to 70 years old – started rocking back and forth on the bench near us. “I swear this time, Jesus, I’m not gonna go back to it. Fuck no, I’m gonna use the power of the Lord and stay the fuck off that demon drug.”
“Oh my god,” whispered Tina as we both tried not to laugh. “This is just so fucking unreal.”
“Fuck yeah, I’m gonna spend my time in rehab praying to you, Lord, and fuck me if I let it take me again!”
“Just keeping thinking ‘magazine article,’” I said.
Every time the door opened I figured it had to be my turn. But after awhile women that were brought in an hour or so after me were handed their bags of possessions and released into the world while I waited, along with Jade and Tina. One of the women that joined the ranks of the waiting was a troublemaker, loud and bossy. She started telling other women what to do if she didn’t like their conversation or thought they were moving around too much.
. The smell from the toilet cubicle only got worse and, just to top things off, my period officially started, along with increased cramps and nausea. I was starving, thirsty and increasingly paranoid about my job. What if, in all the worry over me, Brian had forgotten to call my temp job and tell them I wouldn’t be there? And what about Brian? The thought of him waiting outside hour after hour was killing me. If I could have just talked to him for 30 seconds, told him the situation, I would have been able to wait my turn somewhat patiently. As it was, my anger and frustration increased to a borderline psychotic panic attack until I was pacing back and forth like a caged cat. The other women stayed out of my way. Even the mouthy bitch didn’t say anything. Good thing ‘cause I’m sure I would have gotten a few more days jail time if I’d punched her.

About 1:30, they brought us lunch, the first food or drink I’d been offered since I’d gotten there 12 hours earlier. Two slices of bread, a package each of jelly and peanut butter, and two boxes of fruit flavored beverage (no real fruit product included). When I opened the package of peanut butter and dubiously spread a little on a slice of bread, I realized what had been smeared on the walls of Holding Cell C. I nibbled a corner, but one taste of the sickly sweet spread combined with the now gut-wrenching cramps killed my appetite. I sipped a little fruit flavored beverage (this would be some sort of red fruit), which increased rather than quenched my thirst.
Poor Tina was going crazy. She’d already spent 10 hours over her required 48 and wanted to get home to her husband and children. She hadn’t even been given her clothes yet, but was still wearing the prison blues.
Jade was also getting antsier by the minute. She wanted to talk to the next SD that opened the door, but everyone told her that this would be a very bad idea and most likely keep us all in there for another hour. When 3:00 rolled around, however, I didn’t say a word when the door opened and she approached the SD handing out more bags of clothes. “Excuse me, but we’ve been in here since 8:00 this morning. Is there something wrong?”
Miracle of miracles, the woman asked for our numbers, shut the door for a moment, then reappeared and told us to line up. Jade gave me a triumphant look. “See?” I looked back at Tina, still sitting on the bench in prison clothes. “Good luck,” I mouthed, and practically ran out the door, my guilt at abandoning her to her fate overcome by the relief of finally getting out .
We lined up against the wall, ignoring the catcalls and sexually explicit comments from the male prisoners still waiting their turn. The satisfaction of telling the assholes to go fuck themselves was not worth another minute in that cell.
Down the hall to yet another room, this one the final processing before getting our belongings back. A brief wait, more paperwork, then through a revolving door into a hallway with another revolving door at the opposite end. The last batch of women to be released before us were lined up there, grumbling restlessly. A voice over a loudspeaker told them that if they weren’t quiet, they’d wait even longer. It seemed like a case of power tripping; because the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department could, they did. Assholes.
Jade and I stood at the back of the line. I distracted myself from yet another unexpected delay by picking the prostitutes out of the bunch based on their street clothes.
A half hour later, we were let out of the hallway and into a little room with a window where we were given our wallets and jewelry back. We had to go another window to get the contents of our wallets, including a copy of the citation. We were told to go to another door and, big surprise, wait.
Looking through my belongings, I discovered that I hadn’t been given anything indicating where I was supposed to pick up my car. Officer Z had assured me that this information would be with my things when I was released so I went back to the window where I’d retrieved the contents of my wallet and asked the woman working there what I should do. “Go ask the information Deputy over there,” she said, pointing to yet another window, where a young, mustached SD sat reading a Sports Illustrated.

"Excuse me,” I said very politely. “But I was told you could answer a question—“

‘No questions,” he barked, not looking up from his Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

“But the woman over there said—“

“I don’t care what she said, no questions. And if you want to get out of here, I suggest you line up at that door like you were told.”


I walked very calmly over to the door, joining Jade, who was missing $30 from her wallet. A buzzer went off and the door clicked open. As we walked out the door, I said as loudly as I could, “I just met the biggest asshole I’ve ever come across in my life.” And I did not get dragged inside and tossed back into a cell, probably because the little weasel was too lazy to move his ass.

The door slammed shut behind us, leaving us on an open air staircase. We followed the stairs up to the top and came out on (? ) Street, outside L.A. County Jail. The sun was blinding and I flashed on a moment in the movie, PAPILLON, where Steve McQueen comes outside after two years of solitary confinement. I had to smile at the comparison: one measly night in prisoncompared to two years spent in one cell. Hey, I’m a drama queen.

People were gathered around the stairs, waiting for loved ones to emerge. Brian wasn’t there, so Jade and I parted ways, she to find a cab and me to call home. I found a payphone around the corner, thrilled with the fact that I had the choice to put money in the slot and make a phone call. That was the worst thing about the experience, the lack of choices. That someone orsomething else had the power to tell me what I could and could not do. For a control freak like me, it was hell.

Brian was waiting for my call. I don’t know who was more relieved to hear the other’s voice. We agreed that he’d pick me up at a little coffee shop down the street as soon as he could get there. Hanging up, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the metal phone. I looked tired and shell-shocked, but not nearly as horrible as I felt. Nothing a two hour scalding hot showerwouldn’t cure.

I hung up the phone and stood and stood there. Children, what have we learned from our experience?

One: laws aren’t necessarily ethical or fair and the punishment does not always fit the crime.

Two: I realize that jail isn’t supposed to be fun (they want to discourage people from repeat visits, after all) and that law enforcement officials have to deal with the dregs of society on a daily basis and this has got to make them cynical as hell. But the fact that all of the emphasis was on punishment – and arbitrary punishment at that – and none on rehabilitation was a huge epiphany.

Which brings me to number three: the people who enforce the law aren’t all good people. This realization made me sad because I used to hold police officers up there with firefighters as heroes, the people you went to when you were in trouble. I left L.A. County Jail with a distrust for law enforcement that I knew I’d carry for a long time.

And number four? I prefer hookers and crack whores to L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies.

I walked across the street, bought myself a mocha and sat down to wait for Brian to pick me up, a free woman once more,


  • At 4:51 PM, Blogger FreeThinker said…

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this harrowing true tale. Of all the bad luck to befall you that night!

    Good thing you escaped before getting one of those tacky prison tattoos. ;-)~

    Can you post your mug shot photos? I think all your blog readers are curious. We've seen Hugh Grant, Nick Nolte, James Brown: your turn!

    And you didn't explain exactly what that S&M chair was for ...

  • At 12:38 AM, Blogger Other Lisa said…

    Good edit. I like the ending a lot.

  • At 8:24 AM, Blogger zhadi said…

    I don't have a mug shot, per se (they didn't give me a copy of it, the rat bastards!), but I do have a passport photo taken years ago that LOOKS like a mugshot...I suppose I'll just have to get the digital camera and mock one up for you all...

    As far as I could tell, the S&M chair was for restraining unruly/drunk/whacked out prisoners so that they wouldn't hurt themselves. I don't think I put it in this edit, but one of the deputies asked if I 'wanted to try it out.'


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