The kids know all about me getting locked up, so I’ll dispense with the euphemisms. I’ll pick up the story from July 22, 2016 in Room 8 of the Northampton County courthouse. I forget the name of the “jurist” presiding, but for purposes of this post, it doesn’t matter. It took His Honor all of 10 minutes to sentence me to two months in the county jail, which is referred to in Northampton County as a prison for whatever reasons. His Honor’s obvious goal was to use the power of the state to collect a fee for opposing counsel, a rather curious circumstance discussed here.
Once sentence was imposed, a sheriff’s deputy asked with evident courtesy that I place my hands behind my back so that my wrists could be cuffed. I did so and with a final glance at His Honor, I asked if his decision is subject to appeal. He replied that it is and it was exit stage right for the deputy and me.
We walked through a long corridor to an elevator. On the trip down to the bowels of the court complex, the deputy asked me about the origin of my first name. With reciprocal courtesy, I told him it was Brazilian.
The doors of the elevator opened to yet more corridors that led to a station manned by a county corrections officer. He opened a gate leading to a kind of holding corridor with an identical gate at the other end. A bleacher type bench lined one side of the hall and short, frosted windows situated near the ceiling lined the other. I was walked into this corridor and patted down by the deputy. Once it was established that I carried no contraband, the escorting deputy bade me farewell. I was now in the custody of the Northampton County Department of Corrections.
After a short wait, the corrections officer (“C.O.”) who opened the near gate walked me down the corridor to the far gate. Through still another gate, we entered the main concourse of the Northampton County Prison.
The place is at least as old as Alcatraz, maybe older. The ceiling is perhaps 40 feet up and each side of the concourse is lined with 2-man cells stacked 2 tiers high. The hall is about 20 feet wide and bisected by a traversing corridor that leads to the main gate at one end and parts unknown at the other. The decor is strictly 19th century institutional, the walls painted a soul-numbing gray. Despite the presence of two large, functioning fans that could double as airplane propellers on either side of the hall, no one had to hit up weather.com to know it was hot outside.
Yet another gate led us from the concourse to central booking, which is to a county detention center what a triage desk is to a hospital’s emergency room. After a second, more thorough pat down, including the old squat-and-cough, I was stripped of all personal property and issued a jumpsuit and a large, plastic kind of overnight bag. My next stop was a seat on a concrete slab in the “bullpen”, a relatively large, temporary holding cell.
It was 11:30 AM by the clock in the hallway. As it was early AND hot (triple-digit heat slows down even the most dedicated felons), only 3 guys were there before me. Two were sleeping and the third was visibly resigned to our shared fate. As is generally the case in a bullpen, there wasn’t a whole lot of conversation going on at first, but boredom has a way of loosening lips. Within two hours of staring at the same pair of C.O.s walking back and forth in the unadorned hallway beyond the cell door, the lumps of sullen flesh to my left and right evolved into Homo sapiens capable of at least rudimentary communication. Good thing, too. Those guys turned out to be real characters…