Defending Dads

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Category: The Jail for Justice Series (Page 1 of 2)

Jail for Justice — Punchline to An Open Letter to the Media

On Wednesday, July 27, 2016, I strolled through the main gate of the jail into the blistering heat of a late July afternoon. Walking into a furnace never felt so good. I thank my dear friends and family for their perseverance to secure my freedom. I was told that certain county employees were either too confused, disorganized, misinformed or immature to carry themselves like professionals, and so did what they could to hold up my release. Imagine: The Mean Girls Club conducting — or rather obstructing — the business of Northampton County.

I was thrilled to be going home. I had company, I would enjoy a decent meal and I could catch up on my favorite TV shows. I knew there was plenty to do the following morning but that was fine because I was up for it. For weeks now, I’ve been working my way back to normalcy and momentum continues to be on my side. Even as I’m poised to burst through the barricades erected by my detractors, I have not lost sight of my long term goals. Mark those words.

I don’t tolerate bullies. I’ve come across enough of them to know how they think and how best to turn their tactics against them. It’s never enough to simply confront them. The thing to do is tear down their support structures. A spider without a web won’t catch many flies.

Over the course of my short blogging career, I might have mentioned that I kinda like my kids. As long as I am doing what I need to do for myself and them, no one should be meddling in our affairs.

I might have also mentioned that kids need their fathers. Any system that would alienate a concerned father from his children should fall like a house of cards in a wind tunnel.

My five days away? Aside from inconveniencing me, they meant absolutely nothing. To any one. Incarceration has its purpose, but in my case, it is useless as either a teaching tool or deterrent to behavior that displeases those who would put me in my “place” as it were.

I’m as unassuming and easy going as you please, but I will never be cowed by ostentatious displays of what some consider power. Rather, I’ll consider the cowardice at the root of such behavior and counteract any credible threats.

The concept behind the original “Jail for Justice” post was simply to draw attention to under-reported and systemic bias exercised by court officials against fathers caught up in the divorce/custody/support complex. I had been so outraged by the flippant, petulant and often silly actions of the opposing parties and even judges in my case that I felt compelled to exercise my First Amendment right to tell it on the mountain.

That first post was cathartic and conspicuously free of the kind of spin typically employed by bad lawyers to obfuscate facts that either don’t support or even contradict their positions. Though no judge might hear it, I knew I had made a convincing case without having to lie under direct or implicit oath.

Regardless, my ordeal continued long after the original “Jail for Justice”. As events unfolded, it seemed reasonable to carry on the narrative in subsequent posts under the same title with added enumeration. I allowed these to take on a life and meaning of their own. The posts became less of a protest and more of a chronicle of judicial and attorney misconduct from the perspective of a literate — and literal — victim.

The posts ultimately relate a modern day attempt to railroad a man into a vicious cycle of debt and incarceration that threatened to tear him away from his children and impair his ability to provide for them emotionally and financially. The idea that a system ostensibly designed to protect mothers and children was, in this instance, used to persecute a father simply for speaking truth to power is absolutely repugnant. In a sense, it’s a good thing that it happened to me. God knows how many men have experienced this who could not have effectively expressed it via the written word.

And so, I sum the series up as follows: As I have on multiple occasions already, I call on the media to tell the stories of fathers who love and do for their children, even with a legal deck stacked against them as tall as a skyscraper.  Tell those stories, lest my next series of posts bears the title “Jail for NO Justice” because in the cases of the men I met on that unit, that would be more appropriate.

Oh, and the “punchline” mentioned in the title? There is none; the term is used ironically. There’s nothing funny about this kind of nightmare for any father anywhere who ever loved his babies.

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media XV

For the remainder of my time on the intake unit, I either listened to accounts of or spoke about the utter failure of the courts to handle divorce in a way that is less devastating to fathers and truly beneficial to children and their futures. Worse, no one seems inclined to change anything, not even the fathers chewed up and spat out by the process.

I guess that’s how it goes with the human condition. Throughout history, minority groups targeted for persecution by hostile majorities have endured inconceivable abuse. Egyptians enslaved Hebrews, Romans massacred Christians, the English crushed just about anyone who wasn’t English and so on. While I don’t suggest that divorced fathers are crucified, fed to lions or broiled in iron maidens, I think ample evidence exists that we don’t get much love.

The thing we divorced dads have to draw strength from is that in each case I’ve referenced, change did come. It always does. But what is any of us going to do to help it along? Who among us has the courage to speak up? Which of us loves his children enough to take decisive action?

By the afternoon of Monday, July 25, 2016, the intake unit was to be purged to make room for a new group of sinners. The current crop were ordered to gather our belongings and wait by the gate. A head count was conducted, then we were marched through the main gallery bound for our respective regular housing units, our homes away from home.

That gallery was literally a hot mess. Men bustled about on the tiers. They at first seemed oblivious to us, but in a matter of seconds, we became the center of their attention. Some men even left their cells to get a gander at us. They must have been bored nearly to death to be so fascinated by a group of inmates on their way to their assigned cells. Some made catcalls, a gesture so hackneyed and pointless that none of us bothered to look up.

At the far end of the gallery was another set of gates leading to the annexed section of the jail. Guys had been talking this place up since we were in the bullpen. As we passed through the portal from the ancient side of the jail to the new, there was a marked difference in air quality and temperature. It reminded me of what it’s like to step into a brand new subway car from a muggy, dimly lit platform. I might not have been going home just then, but neither would I be exiled to the Black Hole of Calcutta. How’s that expression go about clouds in silver linings?

Truthfully, I didn’t care where they sent me. My mind was beyond the grasp of its surroundings. I had my notes and contacts. All I had to do was wait.

On the regular unit, the crew I met at intake had been assigned to various cells. The capacity of these cells was eight, so each of us had seven new personalities to learn. There wasn’t a lot of time for mingling. When you see a familiar face on the tier, you nod, exchange a word or two then move on. This wasn’t high school, after all.

In summary…

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media XIV

Wow. As I’m writing this post, a glance at the title field reveals the Roman numeral “XIV”! I intended to write a kind of op-ed piece, not a TV series, but be that as it may…

So I was sitting in the dayroom listening to guys relate their stories. On my grandfather’s ashes, I was appalled. No less than 1/3 of the men on the intake unit were there for penny ante stuff related to alleged violations of Protection From Abuse (“PFA”) orders or child support arrears totaling less than $1,000.

Jail? For that? Really? Are they locking guys up for jaywalking, too?

Before I go on, I need to establish some things:

  • I relocated to the Lehigh Valley because it is a wonderful place to live and raise children;
  • People here are generally friendly, thoughtful, respectful and law-abiding;
  • At the time I relocated, I did not foresee any marital issues that would result in the morass in which I find myself enmeshed; and
  • My days of gambling with my life and liberty were over for more than a decade before I even considered leaving New York, which is to say that I do not flout nor do I intentionally run afoul of the law. I’m a father and, generally, a busy one — I try to set an example for my kids and I have no time to be running back and forth to court for nonsense.

Yet, here we are, or rather, there I was:

  • In jail;
  • Not convicted of any crime;
  • Taking up space;
  • Watching painfully bad TV;
  • Waiting for the results of a TB test;
  • Wearing a jumpsuit better suited for a scarecrow than a human being;
  • Eating foods of dubious origin;
  • NOT earning money for child support;
  • Missing my kids, friends and family;
  • Ordered to pay a fine, then incarcerated before I could even visit a bank or make a phone call;
  • At the mercy of people who would violate my constitutional rights because I had the nerve to point out that they were violating my constitutional rights;
  • Listening to other guys whose constitutional rights were violated, some of whom were held prisoner for failing to pay child support arrears when their incarceration had cost them their jobs, others because they were simply accused of violating PFAs, even if there was no evidence that they had done so and consequences be darned;
  • Stuck in Northampton County’s modern take on the debtor’s prison; and
  • In jail!

So I took notes, gathered contact information, jotted down ideas and cultivated strategies. The men on the unit might have been content to rot in jail while the creeps who put us there spent the weekend laughing it up somewhere, but I’ve worked too hard to have any kind of life to allow some good ol’ boys to rip it from my hands simply because they can. No sirree.

The take-aways:

  • The show performed the previous day in Room 8 went off without a hitch, as if the players had recited their lines ad nauseum over hundreds of performances;
  • Too many men on the unit were telling the same story for it to be a coincidence;
  • No one can be expected to pay off a debt from a jail cell; and
  • Karma is, er…not a friend of the unscrupulous.

Learn more…

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media XIII

There I sat in a dark cell all dressed up (in a county jail jumpsuit) with no place to go (because I was already in jail).

The light switch for each cell was positioned just outside its gate, but within reach of any inmate willing to stick his arm over his open cell’s threshold or through the bars of a closed gate. Most inmates never bothered to flip the switch. My cellie and I certainly did not. Why would we? There wasn’t a book or magazine of any kind on the unit and the prison handbook is hardly a scintillating read.

My cellie woke up in a bit of a mood, but I had learned enough about him to not take it personally. If I woke up in a dimly lit cell and saw me sitting on the opposite bunk staring into space, I’d be a little miffed, too.

Someone had changed the channel on the TV to ESPN. Faux-hip, frat boy banter over baseball highlights was drawing an audience in the dayroom. Guys were looking up at that TV with the kind of focus some retirees devote to slot machines. Had it been football season, I would have been right out there with them. Instead, I chose to take advantage of unstructured time; I took a nap.

When I woke up, it was readily apparent that not much had changed. A glance through the cell’s open gate revealed the same guys seated at the picnic tables watching maybe the fourth iteration of SportsCenter as intently as they had the first. Some had changed seats. Others propped their feet up on the bench of the table in front of them. None was nearly as interested in the program as his gaze might have indicated. Was this really how the men on the unit who bothered to leave their cells would spend the day? I had other ideas.

I rose (no pun intended) from my bunk, retreived an ink pen and some blank paper from my kit and marched through the cell’s gloom to the dayroom.

Struck with inspiration for future blog posts, I grabbed a seat at a random table and set to writing. As more men exited their cells, I picked up smatterings of chatter. Even as I jotted my notes, I tuned in to what I was hearing. Over time, I stopped writing my own thoughts and started writing those spoken by others.

I might have been the only man on the unit jailed for a civil matter, but according to several inmates, my story is hardly unique. What is unique is that I am compelled to address the insanity that led to me spending five days in jail. What is unique is that I wonder why all of these dads just accept utter stupidity as convention. What is unique is that I refuse to live my life under the thumbs of people who demand that I live by rules that they themselves do not.

There’s gotta be a better way. You can call me crazy, but you won’t call me miserable.

And there’s still more…

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media XII

God knows how, but I slept well my first night on the intake unit. The air conditioning was cranked so high, I hunkered down under the itchy old blanket I dug out of my county-issued bedding/toiletry kit. Ahh, that kit. Constructed of the kind of vinyl once used for slip covers, it is about the size of a new comforter as folded and packaged for sale in stores. In addition to the scruffy blanket, my kit held a pair of worn towels, a plastic pillow, a brown sheet set and what looked like a sandwich bag containing toiletries. These were a sawed off tooth brush designed to defy attempts to fashion it into a weapon, a tube of colorless tooth gel with no added flavor, a small bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap and a tiny comb. The quality of this stuff would draw complaints from even the guests of motels with hourly rates, but who were we, the dregs of society, to protest?

The morning of Saturday, July 23, 2016, I woke up to the sound of the television in the dayroom. It had been left on overnight which was not a problem, but of all channels, the C.O.s had chosen TNT. This must be the worst network on TV. Grimm, Charmed, Bones, Supernatural…no self-respecting inmate would be caught dead watching any of these shows. I’m sure every man on the unit would have preferrred watching the preview channel.

Eventually, the sounds of walkie-talkies and footfalls and buzzers and opening and closing metal gates drowned out whatever absurd dialogue the actors on these shows had actually been paid to recite. At last, I heard a key inserted into the lock on my cell gate. Seconds later, the gate slid open, a trustee shouted “trays up!” over the cell’s threshold and, out in the dayroom, breakfast was served. My cellie is a sleeper. I walked past his prostrate form into the harsh lighting of the dayroom.

I continued to observe the detention center protocol of walking with my head up and looking through people without looking at them. A number of faces were new to me. These men had been placed on the block before the group I was processed with had arrived. The intake block is a temporary housing unit for newly arrived inmates awaiting the results of medical tests, specifically that for tuberculosis. Each man on the unit would spend at least 72 hours there. TB? One guy cracked that he hadn’t heard of a single case reported in the U.S. in over 30 years. Sounded about right to me, but what did I know? I couldn’t even get anyone on the phone the night before.

I grabbed a seat at one of the picnic tables, wolfed down most of my breakfast, stashed the rest in my cell, then grabbed a shower. Afterward, I felt refreshed and ready to face my day. I draped my wet towel over my mattress pad, then sat down to think about what I’d do next. Let’s see…I could continue to sit in the cell or I could go sit at one of the picnic tables in the dayroom. Decisions, decisions.

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media XI

Smart phones are a blessing AND a curse. The conveniences they offer tend to make their owners lazy. For example, who memorizes phone numbers anymore? I don’t! Imagine that after waiting for hours to make a call, I sat in the bullpen staring at the phone as if it were some kind of sculpture at a museum. After several minutes of contemplation, I finally picked up the receiver and gave making a call my best shot.

Either the numbers I dialed were wrong or no one was taking my calls because I came up goose-eggs after about 10 tries. Would I have to notify people that I was in jail via *gasp* snail mail? Maybe. Considering that I had no access to matches or the roof, smoke signals were out of the question.

Fortunately for me, who had to be the friendliest C.O. in North America retrieved me from the bullpen to complete the intake process. She led me to a desk in an office adjacent to the cell. Lo and behold, the envelope containing my personal belongings, including my phone, sat on the desk. I was invited to take a seat. The C.O. asked me a series of questions and recorded my answers on a workstation that was also on the desk. Long story short, once the interview was done and the C.O. escorted me back to the bullpen, I was holding a slip of paper bearing several phone numbers. Before she had the gate locked behind me, I was working that phone like a telemarketer. Once again, even with valid phone numbers, my calls went unanswered!

But I still wasn’t trippin’. I just swore to God that someone somewhere was going to figure out that I was in the pokey and do what had to be done. In the meantime, I got “comfortable” as it were and swapped war stories with my remaining cellies. To the smiling C.O.’s credit, she was getting guys out of there at a pretty good clip.

About 8:30 PM, I was finally transferred from the bullpen to the intake cellblock. Like the bullpen, intake is well air conditioned. The block is shaped like a “T” with a wide stem. Four metal picnic tables sit parallel to eachother in a row down the middle of the stem, forming aisles on either side. These aisles are lined with 2-man cells as is the very top of the arm of the “T”.

At the base of the “T”, suspended from the ceiling is a flat screen TV with a very limited channel selection. There is no HBO or Showtime, which has to be some kind of human rights violation.

I was directed to my assigned cell and waiting behind the gate was one of my bullpen cellies. “Not this guy again”, he quipped. I chuckled as I walked past him into the cell and began to make myself at home. The entire jail was on lockdown, a condition under which all inmates must be locked in their cells, and intake was no exception. The C.O. slid the gate shut behind me with a loud metallic clang. It was definitely bed time.

The cell is maybe 10′ deep × 8′ wide with another of those infamous concrete slabs lining the left and rear walls. My cellie had already taken the slab on the left wall. This cell was an improvement over the bullpen in one regard — a 4″ thick vinyl mattress pad was there for either the relative comfort of inmates or to save wear and tear on the slabs. I don’t typically suffer from chronic back pain, but after a night on that thing, I suspected that might change.

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media X

Every man in the bullpen with me had been there before. Once lunch had been served, a couple of veterans advised me to hold on to any food I had left;  there was no telling when we would be fed again. Most stacked their picked-over trays by the gate. I couldn’t get down all of my gray rice, so I kept the remainder beside me on the slab.

Coffee Man’s antics had opened the flood gates to conversation. I was listening but not yet talking. After most of the guys had run down their cases, it became clear that I was the only person there for a civil matter. When the focus turned to me, I related as much. Eyebrows were raised in surprise and many guys parroted “you’re here for what?” My cellies confirmed for me what I already knew: I had no business in jail, especially when so much was at stake in terms of time with my children, my finances and even the roof over my head.

Was I angry? No. I’ve already walked that road and it leads nowhere. I was mulling over every morsel of information fed to me by my cellies and weighing my options. I wouldn’t hand my enemies the hammer to nail shut my own coffin.

At about 4:00 PM, the slow wheels of justice at last began to turn. A new shift of C.O.s had come on duty and they seemed more energized and capable than those they relieved. Now, a young, female C.O. with a ready smile was in charge of intake. The first of us to be processed was…Coffee Man! Though he never did get that cup of joe, he was finally booked and moved to a unit. Bully for him. As for the rest of us, we missed the distraction of his running commentary. His case was by far the most interesting of any discussed and his blatant disregard for the authority of cops and C.O.s was vaguely comforting. I guess he channeled the simmering anger any person in our predicament would feel, justified or not, which relieved a certain pressure we all suppressed.

As our numbers decreased, conversation became more subdued and serious. Most detainees were there for drugs. I’ve seen — and been affected by the behavior of — plenty of addicts. Their stories were familiar to me, as were their regrets and concerns about getting and staying clean. Jail is not a place for pity or judgment or any of the ideological luxuries freedom affords the unfettered. I listened impassively and kept my thoughts to myself. I never met an addict that didn’t know exactly what she/he needed to do to straighten out her/his life. The last thing addicts in jail need or want to hear is a lecture from a square who isn’t sitting on the other side of a desk.

About 7:00 PM, the C.O. with the ready smile came to the gate and called my name. She escorted me from the cell to be fingerprinted and photographed. When this was done, she issued me paperwork bearing a unique inmate number and commissary PIN, then returned me to the bullpen.

There were two phones in the cell, but they were useless to anyone not in possession of a commissary PIN. Now that I had mine, it was my turn to make that fabled jailhouse phone call…

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media IX

Between 11:30 AM and about 3:00 PM, the guards brought in five other guys. Two of these were as rustic as I had ever been in prolonged contact with. The third was a one-time jock derailed by drug addiction. The fourth was an obviously seasoned con from Newark and the fifth was a teen surfer from out west. The new arrivals plus the four already there made 9 souls crammed into that oddly shaped cell. There we were: Northampton County’s own Breakfast Club, less the pretty girls, pop tunes and funny clothes.

The Newark kid (“Newark”) had already spent some time in the jail and was dumped in the bullpen to await transfer to another facility. Out of jail house courtesy, he gave the rest of us a rundown on this joint’s inner workings. As jails go, he didn’t reveal anything earth shattering, but it was good to know what to expect.

It turns out that the jail has a relatively new annex. Newark told us that the annex was the place to be in summer because temperatures on the top tier of the main gallery seldom dip below 85º. ¡No bueno!

Alas, Newark’s ride came before the guards delivered lunch so we were denied the chance to break bread. Nevertheless, he left us with a warning that we shouldn’t get our hopes up about chow. Newark didn’t discuss why he was locked up, but he definitely wasn’t guilty of lying about the food! OMG!

A C.O. wheeled down the hall a utility cart laiden with styrofoam containers. My cellies seemed excited about this. I was hungry, too, but as much as those trays looked like Applebee’s takeout, I so knew better!

The Coffee Man? I cannot post much of what he said about anything, much less the food, but he let the C.O. have it for keeping us waiting so long. Then he demanded a cup of coffee.

The delivery C.O. was young and inexperienced. He wasn’t intimidated by Coffee Man’s challenge, but he seemed a tad embarrassed that the food hadn’t arrived sooner. He opened the gate and grinned sheepishly as he handed out trays as quickly as guys could grab them. Coffee Man opened his tray and, with a look of mock astonishment, exclaimed “What the ____?”

Coffee Man shouted at the C.O. a stream of expletives occasionally broken by a noun or verb. I laughed so hard, I almost dropped my tray. The cell was transformed into an echo chamber by the laughter of several men bouncing off the walls. When I regained enough composure to open the tray, I beheld some sort of patty that superficially resembled meat, a brown, liquidy substance that could have been gravy or pudding, an ambiguous block of yellow cake or cornbread, a huge helping of gray rice and a portion of dry, unseasoned sweet peas. At least they threw in an apple for good measure.

As I’ve written, it was good to know what to expect.

Beggars can’t be choosy. I had only eaten a banana that morning before the hearing. I scarfed that stuff down as if Gordon Ramsay himself grilled it up in front of us hibachi style. Oddly enough, they brought nothing to drink. As one might expect, this did not please Coffee Man, and God did the C.O.s hear about it!

Excuse me…I’m not finished.

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media VIII

Once the Coffee Man had caught up on his sleep, he began to talk. At first, he restricted his conversation to mild, rather creative epithets hurled at the guards. Some of these were good enough to elicit suppressed grins from their targets and absolute guffaws from detainees.

God, it was good to laugh. By this time, any doubt that I had fully emerged from depression dissolved like Alka Seltzer in water. Indeed, there was even an effervescent quality to the thoughts I tried to suppress in order to deal with incarceration. The key to navigating time in jail is to live in the moment. Any successful inmate keeps her/his thoughts of the world beyond the walls tightly controlled. Inside or out, it never pays to worry about things one cannot control unless there is a determination to make colossal change.

There I was in jail under the most ludicrous pretexts and my head was exactly where it should have been. And I was laughing. After so many months of emotional turmoil, this realization was like finding a strong box full of cash while digging up weeds in my backyard. I knew then and there that regardless of how long I was to be deprived of my freedom, I’d be OK. All I needed was to get processed and placed on a unit so I could start working the phone. In the interim, I kicked it with my cellies.

Over the years, I’ve talked with people who have had limited or no experience with the justice system. Many seem to believe that people in jail sit around feeling sorry for themselves and commiserating. That may be true for some prisoners, but most are preoccupied with either getting out or getting comfortable.

The routine pressures of life are amplified behind bars. Everyone has her/his own problems and those looking for sympathy are shunned. The exchange of information, however, is another matter. When an inmate decides to discuss details of her/his case with others, she/he tends to be analytical rather than emotional. Anyone angling to slip a legal snafu can best help her-/himself by conversing with those who have walked the walk, and one cannot expect truth if one isn’t willing to offer it. This is not to say that jail is some kind of wholesale confessional booth. No one walks around extending her/his hand to a total stranger and says “Hi! I’m Blankety-Blank and I’m totally guilty! Wanna play Spades?” Cagey detainees say only what they think is prudent at a given time.

On the other hand, any detainee obviously experiencing an emotional collapse can quickly find her-/himself sitting alone in the day room wearing a proverbial bulls eye on her/his back. Even worse, such a collapse can preclude one’s abilities to learn and adapt. While in the bullpen, I had a chance to observe every man that entered or exited the place. It was clear to me that, over time, some might fare better than others, but there wasn’t a rookie in the room.

The Coffee Man? He’d certainly been around. He was doubtless a student of the “When Life Gives You Lemons…” school of thought. When the guards served us what passed for lunch, his reaction to the substances in the styrofoam trays was hysterical. Most guys in the cell laughed themselves to tears, me included. What a terrific start to my stay.

Wait…there’s more!

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media VII

The Northampton County Prison’s bullpen is oddly shaped. The gate opens onto the cell’s most expansive area, a rectangle roughly 10′ deep × 20′ wide.

Across the cell’s threshold to the immediate left is a 2′ recess abutting the left wall. Set into this recess is a 2′ deep × 2′ tall slab of concrete that runs the length of the left wall and follows a right angle to the wall opposite the gate. This slab serves as a bench/cot.

The 20′ wall opposite the gate is halved by a 4′ high cinder block partition that extends about 5′ into the interior of the cell. On the other side of this partition, set into the wall that forms the end of the main rectangle and just out of sight of the gate, is a metal commode/sink fixture that probably hasn’t been clean since it was installed.

Continuing to look in from the gate, a second 4′ high cinder block partition originates about 4′ right of and perpendicular to the terminus of the first. This second partition runs along the right side of the commode. The gap between the partitions serves as the opening to a kind of stall that offers negligible privacy.

For no reason evident to me, to the right of this “cat box” structure is a 10′ deep × 5′ wide alcove. Set into the alcove’s end is another 2′ tall × 2′ deep slab. The right wall of the alcove runs back past the cat box to the gate, which is built into the same wall. The topmost third of this wall is all fortified window panes that allow C.O.s to look in on inmates as they pass.

Essentially, we inmates sat in a kind of showcase equipped with a bench designed to promote hemorrhoids and/or lower back pain, a commode that would turn the stomach of the most seasoned plumber and an oddly designed alcove that would puzzle the architects behind the pyramids of Giza. Still, we had each other.

Over time, the Coffee Man dropped bits of information regarding his arrest and the charges he thought he might face. Without publicly declaring his revelations, I figured he should find different friends. Not necessarily better friends — this is not a class struggle — but friends with fewer, less violent enemies. Regardless, the Coffee Man seemed to be a decent guy, even if it was plain that he might prove a tad difficult if provoked. Considering that none of us in the bullpen that day was his enemy, he was quite jovial. He seemed to save his best improv for chow time. God knows he had lots of material to work with.

Most of us had been sitting in that cell for hours, hungry and swallowing our own spit to avoid drinking from that abominable commode/sink fixture and the metallic, sulphuric water it spat out. No one thought to complain about this as the C.O.s made it clear that, once secured in the bullpen, we were as amoeba: Simple, single-celled organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye and of even less importance. Still, we mustn’t count out the Coffee Man! It was he who dared to be counted…even with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

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