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…