A different officer was standing in the open doorway. I lifted my head from my hands and looked up at him through bleary eyes. A couple of hours had passed, and my body and soul felt every minute of them.
I helped myself off the bench, and silently followed the officer. I guessed that the more jovial night shift had left. The morning crew was less friendly.
He led me back to my original cell. I wanted to grab his neck and wring it. Surely I had served my time. I finally spoke up.
“I’ve been in here a while, do you know when I’ll be able to leave?”
“You’ll be out of here soon,” he answered, flatly.
“That’s what they all say,” I murmured, under my breath.
And there I was, back where I had started. My original cellmate was long gone. Over the next hour or so, I would have a few more. Enter a pretty, young gang member dressed in 5” heels and club attire. She paced the room and threatened to kill her cousin for landing her in jail – again.
“What happened?” I asked her, calmly. I definitely needed the energy level in the room to feel less threatening.
“THAT FUCKING BITCH GOT DRUNK AND DROVE MY CAR INTO A TREE!” she screamed at the door, presuming that she could be heard.
Her cousin was being held across the way, and was, indeed, drunk. She was laughing, cursing, and wailing in the solitary cell.
“I SWEAR I’m going to kill her. I am going to MURDER that bitch! She is GOING TO GET IT!”
“But why are you here, if she was the one driving?” I asked, genuinely curious.
The girl sat down and adjusted her tight, tiny skirt.
“Because I beat her ass up, and the neighbors called the cops. I have a prior, so I’m fucked.”
“Oh.” I didn’t want to know what her “prior” was.
“So, what the fuck is some white girl like you in here for?”
I chuckled, albeit nervously.
“Um, I got arrested for driving under the influence.”
“Psssshhh.” She dismissed me. “That ain’t nothin’. Sucks for you, though.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. Never a truer word spoken. “It sucks.”
The pretty young gangster was held for about 30 minutes, then taken straight to arraignment. I was almost jealous of her quick turn-around.
My next cellmates were rounded up and deposited into the concrete room. We huddled together on the bench, awkwardly. One woman was arrested for a DUI because she was smoking pot on her way to work. She lit up at a stoplight, right in front of a police car.
“Why’d you do that?!” I inquired, incredulously.
“I dunno, gurrrrl, I jus’ felt like it,” she responded. “It was stupid. Annnn now I’s here, instead of at work, and that’s some fucked up shit.”
I twisted my lips in sympathy. Fucked up shit, indeed. I couldn’t judge the woman. After all, we were all equal.
I turned to the frightened Hispanic woman on my left.
“What happened with you?”
She stared at me with terror in her eyes, pursed her lips, and vehemently shook her head.
I tried again, in elementary Spanish:
”Uhhhh, ¿Por qué estás aquí?”
Fear turned to sadness. “Yo vendía tamales, “ she replied.
“Tamales? You sold tamales?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “That’s why you are here? You’re in JAIL for selling TAMALES?”
“Hooooooo! That’s some fucked up shit, lady,” the pot smoker cackled.
Tamale Lady giggled nervously. Then we all laughed, and the room relaxed.
The two women stared at me, expectantly.
“Oh, I was drinking and driving,” I offered, apologetically. “El borracho,” I pointed to myself.
Sigh. Wish I had a tamale right about now.
Footsteps. Keys. Door opened.
I got up, and wished goodbye and good luck to Pot and Tamale Lady.
“Bye, gurrrrl!” Pot Lady yelled, as the door closed and locked shut.
The officer led me down the hall, past the holding cells. We continued up the stairs.
Oh, my goodness! I’m finally going home! HOORAY!
“Grab a blanket and a sheet, Spencer. You’re going to the beds.”
“I’m sorry, what…what are ‘the beds’?” I asked, trying not to panic.
The officer was clearly annoyed.
“You could be here for the weekend. It’s Friday, and the courts close. So, grab your bedding and let’s go.”
“But, but…” I sputtered. “I’m supposed to be getting out of here now. I’ve been here all night.” I waved my Prisoner’s Receipt in his face.
The officer took it from me but barely glanced over it.
My breathing became labored. I couldn’t be there all weekend. I had a life to live! I couldn’t bear the thought of one more minute in that jail, regardless of how many friends I would try to make to help pass the time.
“Please, sir. I need to get out of here.”
“Well, Spencer, you have to sober up,” he retorted. “And it takes a while for you to be processed.”
I will never live this down, will I.
“I blew a point 1-0, probably about eight hours ago,” I said, as the panic rose in my voice. “I really need to get out of here. I need to go home.”
“Well, Spencer, you shouldn’t have been drinking and driving, then.” He motioned towards a large laundry vat.
“No kidding,” I muttered. I angrily grabbed a blanket and a sheet, and bit my lip hard to hold back my tears.
The officer led me into a much larger cell. In it were fresh, new faces. As soon as I walked in the door, I realized I was very much the minority of the group. For the first time all morning, I felt afraid.
“Heeey, look at the pretty white girl!” A pock-faced young woman called to me. “Ooooohie, look at that great ass! Wow. If I were a lesbian I’d eat you up!”
Oh, God. Please don’t kill me.
I smiled at the group. I could feel their eyes boring holes into every inch of my body.
Next to the pock-faced girl sat a beautiful African-American girl with smooth skin and perfectly formed lips. Her thin frame was covered in a short, glittery dress. She chewed a piece of bright pink gum and casually played with her hair. I walked towards the pair and sat down, right between them.
Pock-faced girl was missing a few teeth.
“Mmmm, girl, you are in the wrong place,” she glared at me.
“Not really,” I said. I didn’t look at her.
The pretty girl to my right laughed, and snapped her gum.
“She damn straight – she in jail. She did somethin’.”
Another woman spoke up. She was pacing the room, tugging at her midriff.
“She probably druuuuuunkkkkk! Look at her! She in here because she fucked up, jus’ like the rest of us. You – (she pointed at Pock Face) be in here for possessin’ some kinda whacked out drugs, and you (Pretty Gum Chewer) be whorin’ youself on the street.”
The girls bristled. I tightened my grip on my blanket.
Oh, no, please don’t get in a fight.
The pacer continued, and her voice got louder.
“I be in here because I be sellin’ CRACK. You know, I don’t need to be sellin’ no drugs, but I did it, and I’s got caught. And now what am I gonna tell my two-year old baby guurrl? Who gonna take care of her? Crack ain’t gonna help nothin’. So I’m ownin’ my shit – just like all y’all should be. When I get outta here, I’s goin’ ta make some CHANGES to my life. Dayyyum.”
I felt inspired. I was proud of her.
“Amen!” I cried.
Everyone stared at me.
Pock Face started laughing. “Damn. I like this white girl. She funny.”
I turned towards her and smiled.
“Thanks. I like to think so, too.”
She flashed me her near-toothless smile.
“You gonna get outta here soon, white girl. They always let the DUI’s go first.”
The door opened, and a female officer called to all of us to gather our bedding and wait for our name to be called. We formed a line in the hallway.
The female officer separated the women into groups of eight, then marched us a few feet down the hall. Pock Face and Pretty Gum Chewer were in my group. When the officer opened the door to our “bedroom”, the women rushed to the bunk beds, grabbed the mattresses and immediately pulled them to the floor. A couple of women used the toilet, which was concealed by a low, brick partition.
At least there’s some privacy in here.
I walked to the bed closest to the door, carefully placed my sheet atop the plastic mattress, and lay down. I was too tired to think about what germs or diseases were crawling along the bed or mattress. If I were to be there for the weekend, I’d have to get some sleep or I would lose my mind.
I pulled the blanket up to my face and shut my eyes. I listened to the girls chatter on about their lives. Pock Face and Pretty Gum Chewer both had young children. They were young, themselves. Barely 20 years old.
“When I get out, the first thing I’m gonna do is find me some good tweek, and then sleep for days!” Pock Face announced.
Oh, Lord. Help me. Help these girls. I know You’re here. You are here with me, in this jail cell.
A few minutes passed, and then the female officer’s voice came over the loudspeaker.
Pock Face mimicked the voice. “SPENCER!”
Pretty Gum Chewer giggled.
I sat up.
“Spencer, you’re going home,” the voice over the loudspeaker said.
The room burst into applause. Pock Face shouted. “SPENCER’S GOING HOME! YEAH, SPENCER!”
Women laughed. I grinned, and tears of pure relief flooded my eyes.
Pock Face continued. “Hurry up, Spencer! Get your white ass on outta here!”
I couldn’t get up fast enough. The key turned in the door and the female officer motioned for me to follow her.
I paused, and turned around. I looked at Pock Face, and Pretty Gum Chewer. I looked at the five other women’s faces. I wanted to remember this moment.
I wanted to say something poignant – memorable. Something inspirational, perhaps? I was so overcome with joy to be leaving that jail. I took in a deep breath.
“Well, goodbye girls,” I squealed. “Be good!”
“Get outta here, Spencer,” Pock Face waved her hand at me. “And don’t ever come back, or I’ll beat yo ass.”
I smiled. I was going home. I had made it through a night in jail.
But the greatest surprise was yet to come.