My immediate reaction was to make friends with my cellmate. After all, we’d be hanging out together for at least eight hours, so I might as well make the most of the situation.
“Hi,” I said, still clutching my Prisoner’s Receipt. I carefully sat down on the bench next to her.
The woman flashed her wild eyes at me, stood up, pulled her pants down and peed in the toilet.
All right, then.
She finished her business, sniffed loudly and curled herself up into a little ball on the bench. Within two minutes, she was snoring.
Okayyyyy. Maybe we can be friends when she wakes up.
I shifted my sit bones on the hard bench. Then, I realized I should probably call someone to let them know I was in jail. I would eventually be needing a ride home. I picked up the receiver to the payphone and dialed my dad’s home number. It was well past 2:00 a.m., so the phone rang and rang. Finally, the answering machine picked up my call.
I took in a deep breath, about to leave a message, but an automated recording from my end of the line interrupted me.
“Hello. You are receiving a collect call from A PRISONER in the Los Angeles County Jail. Please say ‘yes’ or press 1 to accept charges. This call WILL BE RECORDED.”
Wow, way to rub it in, people. I’m a prisoner with zero rights, who can only make COLLECT calls.
I couldn’t leave a message, because no one was available to accept the charges, so I called back. Someone finally answered, but immediately hung up.
Come on! Somebody answer the damn phone!
I called again and again, but the phone kept ringing.
My cellmate kept snoring.
I sighed, and tried my mother. I hadn’t spoken to her in a while, so it was humiliating to have to have a conversation with her like this.
She answered on the fourth ring.
“Hello?” I obviously had woken her from her sleep. I started to speak, but that damn automated recording stopped me.
“Hello. You are receiving a collect call from A PRISONER in the Los Angeles County Jail…”
I heard my mother say “yes” about a thousand times, and then, finally: “Leslie?”
I swallowed whatever pride was left in me.
“Hi, Mom. Um…obviously I’m in jail.”
“Oh, Leslie…what happened?”
I burst into tears.
I started to laugh through my tears.
My mother’s voice sounded tired, worried and empathetic. I regaled the details of the story to her. She tried to encourage me, and expressed that she was glad I wasn’t hurt, or had hurt anyone else. I hadn’t even thought that far ahead. She offered to come pick me up, but she lived almost three hours away. I asked her to call my dad at a decent time to let him know where I was.
Then, an officer opened up the door. My cellmate stirred in her drug-induced sleep.
“Spencer. Time for your mugshot and prints.”
“I gotta go, Mom.” I hung up the phone and wiped my tears away.
The officer flirted with me.
“So, how’d you get here?” He asked, as he rolled my right pointer finger from the ink pad onto my rap sheet.
I have a rap sheet.
“I mean, I know you were drunk, but…”
“I made a mistake, man.”
“What’d you blow?”
Why is this guy so curious?
He smiled at me. “It happens to the best of us. Next time you should really get one of those mini breathalyzers. It’ll save you a lot of money and hassle in the long run. Or just wait a little longer before getting in the car.”
NEXT TIME? There will be no “next time”, thank you very much. Furthermore, why is everyone being so nice to me? I’m a fucking criminal. I’m a piece of shit. I must be some sort of alcoholic, too, because I’m a drunk driver. I deserve what I got.
He then snapped my mug shot. I smiled for the camera.
Might as well make the best of it.
The officer showed me the picture.
“You take a pretty good mug shot, Spencer!”
I studied it. My hair fell perfectly to one side, and my smile was golden. A small smudge of mascara had streaked across my right cheek. My eyes were red and swollen from crying, yet they were present; bright. I peered closer. I could almost see the deep pain in my green eyes. Oddly enough, there was also a sense of total surrender.
“Yeah, I guess it’s not so bad,” I shrugged. “Wish it were under different circumstances.”
He smiled at me again.
“You’ll be all right. You’ll be outta here soon.”
Again, what’s with the nice?
“Thanks. Oh, by the way, what is the address of this place?”
The officer looked at me. “How are you going to remember an address?”
“Because I’m good with numbers?” I raised my eyebrows and shot him a sly smile.
“7600 South Broadway.” He flashed a smile back.
“Oh! So I’m downtown,” I said, thinking aloud.
He laughed, looked at me almost incredulously, and shook his head. “Something like that, yes.”
The kind officer deposited me back into the concrete room and locked the door. I quickly called my mom back and gave her the address.
My cellmate was awake.
“Hi, again,” I offered. I smiled, feebly, and kicked a tuft of hair away from the toe of my boot.
“Hi,” she replied, nervously.
“Soooo, what are you in here for?” I asked.
Did you REALLY just ask the crackhead what she was “in here for?”
“Domestic violence,” she replied, and scratched her head.
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
I started to ask her more about herself. To this day I wish I could remember her name. She was 41 years old, and had twin boys. They were 20 years old. She had gotten in a fight with her boyfriend, she explained, and mumbled some other inaudible details about how she landed in jail, AGAIN.
“We should be getting food soon,” she sniffed.
I listened as she continued to talk, and marveled at how life behind bars (or concrete walls, rather) was so commonplace to some people. At the same time, I started to realize that I was no different from this woman who had pain in her life. She didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I could tell that much just by carrying on a five-minute conversation with her.
She finished answering my questions, and then said, “If you don’t mind, I’m really tired.”
“Oh, of course. I hope you feel better.”
She lay back down and fell asleep, almost instantly. I decided that sleep might not be such a bad idea. I lay down opposite her, and curled my legs up as close to my body as possible. I covered my head with the hood of my fancy sweater, and hugged myself tight. I shut my eyes.
The halls echoed with the sounds of the system. Keys rattled, doors opened and shut. The television down the hall blared and faded. Officers talked and laughed loudly; prisoners occasionally yelled and pounded on the door. Perhaps the sound that was most deafening was that of footsteps: back and forth, back and forth. Each time, the footsteps passed me by. It was agonizing.
I just wanted out, but no one was coming for me.