Misinformation: 23 Hours With the Brooklyn PD
Mom and my sister Rebecca had met me in Union Square, and we thought that it would be a nice day to get dinner in Brooklyn. So we headed to a little taco shop on Metropolitan Avenue and ordered. What a day it was, just right for sitting outside and having a drink with dinner on some sidewalk tables, and so I headed to the bodega next door and pick up three quarts of mexican beer and got paper bags to put them in and brought them back to Mom and Rebecca. Dinner was fine, and we sat and chatted for a while as trucks banged by and people walked. We waved at a baby.
The noise of the traffic was getting to me so I suggested we walk back to my place with the beers which we hadn't finished yet. Rebecca and Mom thought that this might lead to trouble, but I was so darn happy-go-lucky that day that I thought nothing of it, and told them there was nothing to worry about.
Well, we walked along, and we were drinking our beer and chatting when I noticed four policemen standing across the street next to an ambulance with its lights on. I look at Rebecca and Mom and distinctly remember thinking "they're busy with some kind of emergency and they won't see our beers" as we walked by. A few seconds later came a "hey" and then another louder "HEY" and we turned to see them all headed towards us. Well I felt like a real asshole then and there because I had so recently reassured everyone that we were headed down the path of impunity. Pretty quickly we all had our IDs out, and Mom was trying to negotiate our release with one of the cops writing down everything she was saying when I remembered that I had been issued a ticket for exactly the same open alcohol container situation with my girl Sam and ol' Tim on a Manhattan night a year and a half before. It didn't escape me that I had ignored that ticket and chose not to pay it or go to court because who has time for that kind of thing when you're young and careless and ready to go?
Well the cops are standing together talking and one of them is on his phone and looks at me as he wraps up his conversation. I know what's coming but it's still a bitch when he comes at you and says he needs you to step aside with him and then he's having you put your hands behind your back and the cool hard metal handcuffs go clinkety clink and there you are. I looked at Rebecca and Mom and said something about a drinking in public ticket I got a while back that I didn't pay, and I'm sure they didn't believe me because they looked pretty disappointed as I went into the van and they drove me away.
"Well," I said, "what's going to happen from here?" and one of the cops told me that I was headed to jail for a bit, and that I would be out tonight or tomorrow morning. I was really hoping to avoid spending the night in jail, not because I knew what was coming but I had heard it wasn't that great. They booked me in and showed me to the holding cell where there were three guys in there already, a couple of hispanic dudes and a black guy in his own special cell off to the left. Oh, and they had this chick with leg chains on cuffed to a metal rail near the back. They all looked at me and I tried my best to look like I wasn't scared. I know it's cheesy to mention this, but when that heavy steel door closed with a thunk it really hit me that I was in there, and I chuckled to myself for being corny and thinking that.
The cell in the holding room was about twenty five by fifteen feet, made of steel grating which surprised me, because I was expecting to see those metal jail bars that you always see on TV. It wasn't very clean.
We got around to talking about what we were in for. The hispanic dudes were in on gun charges and burglary, the blacks for drugs. I felt pretty silly when I said "open container ticket" and they all looked pretty surprised. "You got warrants?" said the younger hispanic guy and I said yeah. "What for?" "same thing" I said, "open container" and he gave me a look like that was a pretty silly reason to be there. We became friends soon enough and he told me what to expect and we agreed that we'd get together and burn one when this was all over. We were in this holding cell now and sooner or later they were gonna take us to Central Booking in Downtown Brooklyn to see the judge. I asked my friend how long had been in there and he said two days and every hour he'd say stuff like "aight, they gonna let me go soon" and "see that stack of papers on the desk over there? that means we gonna be transported soon."
Soon enough it was getting late and I got around to coming to grips with the fact that I'd be staying the night. Right about then a whole van load of dirty new prisoners was brought in by a cop who began getting their paperwork together and checking them all in. They all had the same worn down look like they had been here before, except for the angry sweating guy at the end who shook off the sunglasses he was wearing and stomped on them. I had a chuckle when the glasses didn't break, but soon enough it became clear that this guy was the wild card. This was confirmed for me when I saw him spit a small bag of coke out of his mouth into the cell, when the cop was looking the other way. Part of me wanted to pick it up to see what would happen but I was pretty sure that I would be on the receiving end of a sweaty rampage if I did, so I stayed in my seat and watched as each new guy was brought in to the cell with a heavy metal clang.
It turned out that the sweaty guy was indeed in the depraved ravages of a cocaine binge, because he didn't stop pacing around and making grunting noises for a long time. Every twenty minutes or so he'd launch into a tirade and demand phone calls and water. Later on he started yelling to have italian food delivered and this made everybody laugh. I didn't think he would ever settle down, but he did later on, when he got into snorting heroin with his friend who had snuck some in. I had never seen dope before and it made me nervous. When I asked him what it was he didn't answer, but some of the other guys laughed at me. "White boy asking questions!" they chuckled.
Luckily enough the rest of the guys in the cell were alright, especially this tall mixed-race guy who was brought in for smoking weed on the street. It was his anniversary and his girlfriend was there when he got arrested, and I felt bad for him because it was his first time in there too, but he wasn't as calm about the whole thing as I was. We got to talking but he never really came to grips with his situation, incredulously asking his arresting officer to explain everything and then explain it again. The other guys seemed surprised that he was in there too, just for smoking weed, but then they all agreed that the cops had gotten tougher lately and it seemed that they were locking everybody up. Me and him and the young hispanic dude talked throughout the night about our situation and how fucked up the whole thing was.
I had to get up to use the toilet, which was off to the side, outside of the cell. It took a while because you had to get an officer's attention and it took them a long time to respond whenever anyone asked for anything. When I got back someone had taken my seat on the bench so I found some room on the floor where I was happy to feel a little breeze from an air vent above. I used my shoes as a pillow and eventually fell asleep, but I woke up many times during the night when they brought new guys in or someone else had to use the toilet, and a few times because there were a couple of big ol' cockroaches that would crawl over someone's feet and make them yelp.
They woke us up at about seven, and told us we'd be leaving in about an hour, after breakfast. I couldn't bear the thought of eating in this place, but I didn't have to worry about that for a while because this, like almost every other thing they told us, was a lie. They brought the breakfast eventually, fast food sandwiches, but it wasn't until about ten or so. This was when I realized that they used misinformation as an effective form of mind control. They'd tell you one thing like "you'll be released shortly" just to give you a little bit of hope and keep you quiet. And when you asked them about it again they'd give you the same answer, or a different one with a new time.
Eventually an officer came into the room and told us that it was time to go, but my heart sank when he said except for you and pointed at me. I learned that I was a special case because my warrant was issued in Manhattan, and that I'd have to be transferred to a different court there to see another judge. They said that transfers don't happen too often, especially on the weekends, and that I'd probably have to wait until Sunday or Monday to be transferred. The guy whose anniversary it was gave me a look of pity and I felt that coil of frustration tighten up in my chest, but I was also relieved that I would be alone, and that I wouldn't have to spend any more time speculating about how long I'd have to be there. Everyone was cleared out by about eleven, and I quickly fell asleep again, reasoning that this was a good way to pass the time.
I woke up again about an hour later when a new guy was brought in on a drugs charge. He had been riding his motorcycle like a madman and when they pulled him over they found drugs in his bag and apparently it wasn't the first time because he was sure he was headed to Riker's penitentiary. He used his phone call to speak to his mother, and he assured her that it wasn't his, and that he was just holding the bag for a friend. He was thirty-seven.
I went in and out of sleep, waking up every thirty minutes or so to pace around the cell or do little exercises to pass the time and stop my muscles from cramping up. I had weird half-dreams about people I'd never met before. New cops would pass by the door of the holding room, and I'd try to get their attention and see if I could plead my case with them. "Sir" I'd say, "sir!" "Could you please let me know when they're doing transfers to Manhattan?" I was being real polite to them and my routine was to try to explain that I had been there too long for a simple drinking in public ticket and that I just needed to be taken to Manhattan. They'd respond with either the "Sunday or Monday" answer or else some other kind of comment like "Yeah yeah everyone hates the cops" and then the other cops would laugh and I'd feel real small and helpless.
I had just invented a game with some cups where I lined them up on the floor like a skee-ball machine, and I was throwing little balls of paper in them and keeping score, when I saw a sergeant with a kind face walk by the door and I tried my little routine on him. He said he'd see what he could do, but I didn't believe him because I had heard that before from a few other cops. Well what do you know, about ten minutes later another guy came in and said he was going to take me to Manhattan and that he was just going to bring the car around and his partner was going to come in and release me. I didn't believe him until the very moment that the partner came in and unlocked the door and put a fresh pair of handcuffs on me. Even then I was a little delirious and skeptical, but then they lead me out of the room and through the back doors and hoo boy I was outside again! I thought I could cry when I saw the blue sky again and I told them so. They probably thought I was overdoing the drama but I didn't care and I felt like a million bucks even as they put me in the back seat and the handcuffs started digging into my wrists.
I looked out the back window and smiled the whole way to the courthouse. People in the street saw me in the back of the car and I probably looked a real sight, hair all disheveled and my once white t-shirt grey with sweat and grime. I kind of enjoyed playing criminal, because I knew I hadn't really done anything wrong and I grinned at all this as they lead me out of the car and into the doors of the court. We walked straight past the cops at the security doors and into the courtroom itself, where a fat man named Lyons introduced himself and asked me what I had done. I told him that I had a warrant for drinking in public and he laughed when I told him that I had gotten caught for the same exact thing yesterday and that's why I was there. He asked me if I watched the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Not waiting for an answer, he quoted an episode, something along the lines of "You know what your trouble is? You keep being you!" and this made me smile. He probably uses that one on everybody. Then he went to hand me his business card which identified him as a public defender, but because I was handcuffed he had to fumble it into my pocket for me. I liked him right away.
In my head I had prepared a little speech to give the judge, but before I knew it was turn to go ol' Lyons had jumped up there and told her (she being the judge) that I was a good guy and that I shouldn't be troubled any more. So I didn't get to give my courtroom speech but then they took my handcuffs off and said "that's it" and I was free to go with absolutely no repercussions or penalties at all! I grinned a big one at the onlookers in the court, and floated out the doors and down the hall. I passed the security gate and jumped down the steps into daylight and gave out a big whoop of joy and didn't even feel corny for doing it. I heard the cops laugh at me and I didn't care and asked the hot dog vendor the way to the subway.
The trains were timed up perfectly that afternoon and I got home in the incredible time of twenty minutes, but I had to sneak in the back through the window because I didn't have my keys. Rebecca had given them to my buddy John and I still don't know where he is, but I'll find him soon enough and everything will be in order again.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Jack Duffy.
Published on e-Stories.org on 08/04/2008.