The last song I heard on the radio before I left for court on Monday (Sept. 8, 2003) had a line about "we only get one life, so we might as well live vividly." Jail certainly is vivid. Also intense. I am going to try writing down a "stream of memory" account of the experience, my first "brush with the law" in 25 years
I therefore headed east instead of west, to the stop for the route 16 bus. What I had with me: The book Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis (checked out from the public library). A smooth, brown, oblong stone (sent to me by my friend Xenia) about two inches long and one inch wide, with a standing bear carved into it. A light rain jacket, more because I wasn't sure what the weather and temperature would be when I got out than because I needed it at the time. My most comfortable jeans. A green t-shirt (sent to me by my sister Susan) with a picture of a grizzly-bear family on it and the words "Eastern Slopes Grizzly Bear Project." A pair of cheerful green-and-yellow socks (sent to me by Xenia). My most comfortable underpants. And, in my fanny-pack, my migraine meds in a box with an Rx label, my bus pass, my driver's license, two peppermints, and my wallet with some money. (House keys in my pockets, goes without saying.)
We had a quiet ride, the few of us heading downtown on the 16 in a Monday noon-hour. From the bus' last stop on Fifth Avenue, I walked through sunshine the several blocks to the building called "The Seattle Justice Center." Sounds radical, doesn't it? Should house at least the ACLU, or, even better, homeless-housing coalitions, food-not-bombs campaigns, and a police-accountability citizen task force.
Instead, one is greeted by a walk-through metal detector. The woman who came through after me noticed Surprised by Joy emerging from the x-ray tube and commented, "That's a good book." I agreed, wondering if she was returning to work after lunch or, like me, on her way to be grist for the justice system's mill.
The elevator and its computerized voice whisked me up to the eleventh floor. Gray is the predominant color, as I remember it. Gray stone, shiny and new-looking. The ceilings are high above, and the hall outside the three courtrooms is all windows on the other side. Although I had been enjoying my book, I found the pull of the view too enticing to resist. The new Seattle City Hall, directly across the street and many floors below, has come a long way since I last had this view of it back in June when I pled guilty and was given 90 days to "think about" paying the $150 fine imposed along with two years' probation. Eventually, it seems, they plan to have a garden on the roof of that building. Sea gulls didn't seem interested in the new plantings there; they soared above and below me, riding the currents of warm air rising from concrete, tarmac, and motors, motors, motors. Betty and Nancy showed up, both with parking stories to relate. And then it was time to enter the courtroom. No telling how long this will take, I warned Nancy. (Betty already knew, from previous experience.) The judge entered: All rise. (Less gracefully than seagulls.) Ah ha. This time, we have the "right" judge for the courtroom. Last time, we had a pro tem. This judge is the one Betty knows, the one to whom she introduced me 25 years ago when the judge was a mere lawyer and Betty and I were seeking advice about an upcoming court appearance. (A different form of civil disobedience, on behalf of another facet of social justice.)
Your honor, the prosecutor said, we have two mumblety cases ready for mumblety, and one ruckruck case. (For some reason, jargon does not stick in my mind. I heard what he said, and I even knew what he meant, but I can't remember the words he used.) Because of what he had said when he asked me earlier whether I had an attorney, I was able to infer that mine was the ruckruck case. Good! That sounds like they'll be taking me early, instead of having to sit here until five o'clock like last time.
Three cases are dealt with in what seems to be the usual way. The prosecutor, judge, and defense attorney (public defender) recite formulaic language to one another, all the while scribbling furiously on form after form. That's one thing that's changed over the course of my experience with the criminal justice system: there's a lot more paperwork now. On this case alone I have accumulated the following pieces of paper: a Summons to Defendant Upon Criminal Complaint (2 pages), a PR (personal recognizance) form, an Inmate Property inventory form (from March), a Seattle Law Department Criminal Division Case Face Sheet, which is stapled to a Criminal Complaint form and an Incident Report form (with its Continuation Sheet), a Statement of Defendant on Plea of Guilty form (4 pages), a Notice of Court Date form, a Judgment and Sentence Order form (2 pages), a Conditions of Suspended/Deferred/Continued Sentence/Prosecution form, another Notice of Court Date form (different date), a Time for Trial Waiver, a Waiver of Right to Counsel form (2 pages; Q: Why do you not want an attorney? A: personal preference), a Court Time Payment Agreement/Time Pay Installment Plan form (on which the clerk wrote "Refused to sign" on my behalf), an Order of Release/Order Setting Bail/Commitment form (the line checked is "Committed to King County Jail"), a Marshals Property Inventory form, another Property Inventory (release form), and a little slip of paper from the jail that has a photocopy of my mug shot on it, along with my height, weight, hair color, etc. Quite a haul for one misdemeanor.
Then my turn came. The judge looked at the case file before her and then peered down at me from the distant vantage of her bench. "Do I know you?" she asked. Not really, I said, but my friend Betty Johanna tells me she introduced us many years ago. Everyone who works in the criminal justice system in Seattle (as far as my observation allows me to judge) is very polite to one another. Judges address prosecutors formally, despite what must be a close working relationship lasting over years of daily contact. Guards in the booking area of the jail, who must request a co-worker to push a button for them every time they need a holding cell door opened, invariably say "please." "I need number three, please." "I need number two, please."
Do you want me to recuse myself? the judge asked the prosecutor. No, he said; since it's just a matter of a fine, I don't think that's necessary. Oh, but then when I said I would not pay the fine.... One couldn't help feeling sorry for the judge. She didn't want to be in that position, the position of sending me to jail. So at that point, she didn't ask, she simply recused herself. Or not so simply, after all. She could have handled the problem by setting up a new court date for me in another court, making me go through the whole routine over again. Instead, she kindly asked the bailiff to find another judge willing to take me on right then. "Try the Mental Health Court," she advised the bailiff, and the bailiff bustled off in her ash-gray tunic and pants that made me wonder what "sack cloth" looks like. Is that another term for burlap?
A few minutes later, the bailiff was back and consulting with the judge. Hmmmm. Obviously the Mental Health judge had said No. Interesting. Out the bailiff went again, through a door on the opposite side this time. Maybe the judge told her "Don't come back till you have a Yes for me." Maybe not. But before too long, the judge w as saying to the prosecutor, "Oh, please tell them [me and my friends, sitting together in the "audience"] where they should go."
Downstairs to a courtroom on the ninth floor. Waiting for a break in the routine, for a chance to slip me in. The prosecutor in this court was a woman, less formal than the man upstairs. The judge was another woman, about whom I was not able to form any impression other than to be sure she thought it was stupid and wrong-headed for me to refuse on principle to accept the opportunity to pay a fine in order to avoid jail. As far as I remember, I said something about having acted on principle (when committing the "crime" of civil disobedience) and not being willing to translate my principles into monetary equivalents.
That's when my personal commitment became civil commitment. "Sit over there," the prosecutor said, motioning me towards the empty jury box. A big improvement (except for being separated from Betty and Nancy), an upholstered swivel chair instead of a hard wooden bench. I sat and swiveled. "Where did she go?" the judge asked when she looked up from her paperwork. I waved to her, and she relaxed.
Then the marshals came, a man and a woman, bulky in their equipment-laden uniform jackets. The woman handcuffed my hands behind my back and then, as an after-thought, removed my fanny-pack and handed it to her male companion, along with my jacket and book. Both of them were wearing gloves. In fact, from that point on, everyone was wearing gloves except those who were prisoners. Out of the courtroom and down in an elevator that was not the public elevator. Into a metal-surfaced area that looked like the non-public areas of a police station.
"In there," the female marshal said, motioning me into a little cell with a table and chair. She took off the handcuffs. "Take off your shoes and empty your pockets." Then she started filling out the inventory form. Although I wanted to ask her whether it was hard to write with those thick blue rubber gloves on, I wasn't sure she would welcome conversation. So I kept quiet. Until she came upon the carved stone I had taken out of my pocket. What's this? she asked. It's a stone, I said. Do you know what kind? No, I said; somebody sent it to me. And then watching her hesitate with the pen hovering over a blank on the form, I added, "I call it a bear stone." So that's what it says on the form: "(1) Bear Stone"
"Good-bye, bear," I said in my mind as she dropped the stone into my pack and the pack into a plastic bag with my other possessions.
"How long are you trespassed?" she asked me. I liked her. Which is to say, I thought she looked likable. Young, solid build, dark brown skin, braided hair, a walled set to her body. But she looked like she could laugh, too. I didn't want to be a bother, but I had no idea what she meant. "What?". So she repeated it: "How long were you trespassed?" Hmmmm. Was she asking how long my co-defendants and I were in Westlake Center with our peace signs before we were arrested? That seemed an odd thing for her to be curious about. But no. When she realized I had no idea what she was asking, she explained: Being "trespassed" means being excluded legally from a place. Ahhh! That's right, we were "trespassed" from Westlake Center for one year. Later I wondered whether she asked because she would mind not being able to go there. Maybe, when she goes off duty and takes off her bulky uniform, she enjoys shopping at the fashionable stores and people-watching with friends and coffee from the kiosk next to which we sang "Wars must end and wars must cease."
"You can put your shoes back on." And then the handcuffs again. The male marshal re-appears. Out another door into a gated driveway that tunnels under the building. A van stands near the door, and I am loaded into the back seat. He drives, she sits next to him, I try to find a way to sit comfortably with hands and handcuffs behind my back. It's a very short ride, though. Good-bye to the male marshal and, almost immediately, to the female also. I am deposited, duly signed for, in the same place my codefendants and I were taken to be booked on March 19. "I need number one, please" is the signal that I am destined to revisit the holding tank where we seven women spent five or six hours that night and early morning.
Already (less than a week later) I've forgotten who the other woman was already "on hold" in that tank when I got there this time. Wait. Yes, I think it was the 33-year-old white woman with a cigarette-smoker's voice and a quick sense of humor. (Alas, I never remember names.) She had been held for hours at the North Precinct already, she said. "On investigation." Having argued with her live-in boyfriend (who had stormed out), she had the locks changed and then went to cry on the shoulder of her best friend, a man she's known since they were children. Now she had no way to get in touch with her boyfriend. He wouldn't know where she was, and he wouldn't be able to get into the house. Whatever her feelings had been at the start, she was laughing ruefully about it all by the time I got there. The police had arrived in force in the middle of the night. Because her friend had a couple of "strikes" against him already, she put the brskle in her purse so it couldn't be charged against him. (Again the jargon defeats me. I am not sure whether the brskle was a gun or a drug.) The cops wanted to "get" her friend and were putting pressure on her to help them in that endeavor. But she was resolute. She was even (in the older sense of the adjective) gaily resolute. Most likely she never has read any poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, but she reminded me of the poem "Conscientious Objector": "Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with me; never through me / Shall you be overcome."
When her turn came to be stripped of street clothes, she returned to the tank in the red uniform assigned to felons.
My own destiny was the blue of misdemeanor. Led out to a curtained cubicle: Take off all your clothes [my shoes had disappeared long ago]; raise your arms; turn around; bend over and spread your cheeks. Put these on. These: white underpants (I rejected the bra, since I wear one very infrequently), white tube socks, dark blue pull-on pants with elastic waist, dark blue pull-over top with short sleeves, pair of plastic slip-on "mules" for shoes. According to a pamphlet they gave me somewhere along the way, women (only) are privileged to receive a second set of pants and shirt after a week in the jail. Underpants and socks must be ordered (if you have the money "on your books") from commissary. I wonder why no man has sued the County for enforcing such a discriminatory policy. Oh, and we each receive a cup made of some plastic material that is between the flexibility of a child's sippy-cup and Styrofoam. "Keep hold of your cup," we are warned. "You won't get another one."
Back to the tank. Every time the door is opened, it makes a terribly LOUD metal-on-metal noise. Every time it makes that noise, my entire body tenses and adrenaline races through my bloodstream. Every time.
As the hours pass, we get taken out one by one, and returned one by one, for (and from) the clothing exchange, mug shots and fingerprinting, "seeing the nurse," and signing a form listing our confiscated property. One item each time, spread out over hours. In between, nothing. Well, there's a TV in the tank, if you call that anything. It is hung up at the top of one wall. Other than the TV, there are two metal-slab benches attached to adjoining walls, two stools affixed to the floor, a metal toilet (minus the seat and lid of its domestic counterpart), and a tiny metal sink. Like all the sinks in the jail, the water is turned on by pushing a button. My fingers and thumb are not strong enough to overcome the buttons' resistance; I can get water only by pushing with the ball of my hand. When I get myself into the position necessary for applying the required amount of force, the little sink is entirely blocked by my hand and arm. The flow of water is cut off immediately as soon as I lessen the full pressure I am able to apply.
The nurse: She asks me about my medication, and it doesn't occur to me to lie. If I had lied, if I had said, it is imperative that I take at least one of those pills every day, perhaps she would have had them sent along "upstairs" with me. And if she had done that, perhaps I would have been able to get the "upstairs" nurse to give me one during the regular meds distribution the next day. I stupidly told the exact truth, however, that I take them "as needed," and the pills were locked up as "property," entirely out of my reach when the migraine descended the next day.
Next to join our tank is a slender young black woman who is crying. Weeping. We are sympathetic and therefore look away. When she sees the phone and tries to figure out how to use it, the other woman manages to give her instructions while remaining decently oblivious (ostensibly) that she is talking to someone who can barely breathe for sobbing. The telephone is free (for local calls) but has no receiver. Instead it has two grills flush with the surface of the box that is the telephone. One must push 9, listen for the dial tone, then dial the number and, as soon as that's done, press one's ear against the upper grill. Doing so requires that the person using the telephone curve her body into an S shape and maintain that position while pressing her ear against a box on the wall. It isn't easy.
She manages it, eventually, however, when her weeping subsides enough for her to dial the number correctly. I try not to listen in on her conversation. At the end it's obvious that she's asking someone to tell her young daughter that she loves her. That she can't come home right away, but she loves her and she will be home soon. One day. Soon. Tell her I love her, okay? Tell her I love her.
At some point, we are given a paper-sack dinner. "Aww. No white bread?" one woman in the tank asks when she sees her sandwich. "Nope, don't have that anymore," says the guard on her way out. And it's true. All the bread in the jail is "brown." The usual spongy, air-filled pseudo-bread, but "brown." They must have gotten health-conscious somewhere along the line. What I have for dinner is an apple. It's not the kind of apple I usually eat, but thank goodness it's cold and it's small enough that I can gnaw away at it with my canines and premolars (my front teeth being useless for biting since I got the bridge). Being able, through vegetarianism and a disinclination to eat crap, to give away most of my food is about all I have going for me in jail, generally speaking.
Another woman arrives not-weeping. She is like Loretta Young swirling into the room. She, too, comes to us from another lock-up, but hers was over in Bellevue. I have a chance to hear a lot of her story, because we spend several more hours together, including one or two after we both (among others) are processed out of Number One tank and into the smaller Number Two where one awaits transfer "upstairs" to the jail proper.
Thursday is my 27th birthday! she tells us. And here I am. There's so many things I've done wrong, but not this. Why don't they bust me for what I've done? Just like before, they always bust me for what I didn't do.
She looks Italian to me, but I don't find it easy to look at her. Basically, she's an ordinary young woman. But she's done something to her mouth. I've heard that you can have make-up tattooed on these days. Maybe that's it. She has a dark solid line marking the outer edges of her lips, all the way around. Within that line, her lips are soft and pink. The contrast between the line and the lips for some reason makes the natural flesh of her lips look icky to me. Obscene. Or at least marine, like the soft insides of a sea creature.
She admits she shouldn't have gone at her step-father with an iron bar, even though he abused her and her sister for years. But then he turns around and tells the police that she was threatening her own daughter, her three year old daughter, which is something she never would do. Never. It's the second time he's lied and got her arrested. But...turns out she's not here about that. Not exactly. She was on house arrest, having been put on probation, and then tested positive for "weed" (what my contemporaries call "pot"; marijuana). A probation violation, though she swears she has not smoked at all since she got out, not at all. It must have been second-hand smoke, even though she made the others sit outside the open door.
She and another woman get to comparing their drinking history. Both started drinking as children. The "weed" woman's father used to give her a dollar to drink a beer when she was a kid. He found it funny. He enjoyed seeing a little kid drinking beer. Now, she says, she can't drink at all because she gets horrible pain in her side if she has as much as half a glass of wine. Must be her liver, she says. So she smokes weed instead. I am saddened to hear that she loves her father and spends as much time with him as he will allow. Of course, she has only her abusive step-father with whom to compare him.
After forever, four of us from Number Two are taken "upstairs." We are walked by a big set of shelves piled with blanket rolls and are instructed to take one. Then up in an elevator to Nine.
The women's jail (or rather, the part I saw) is two tiers of metal cages surrounding an open central stairwell. Within the central core is the Control center, where a guard sits with telephones, a control panel, and a computer terminal. The other three women are told You are in crikle snuckle zorbo, numbers blank, blank, and blank. All three are experienced in this and know what he is telling them. Up they go, the guard manipulates his controls, noises happen. The women are gone.
Then it's my turn. "You are wamble wimble prumble number five." "I don't know what that means," I say. "Up there" -- pointing -- "number five." I continue up the open stairway. A piece of a cage has rumbled open for me and I enter. Within the cage is an area that I will discover later (when I have time to look and recognize) is two small open areas semi-separated by a shower stall and toilet. Opposite the barred wall that has opened to let me into the cage is a solid wall in which I can see the solid doors of four cells. The door of the cell numbered 5 pops open noisily. I enter. "Close the door" says a voice that does not belong to anyone in the cell. I turn to look at the door. There is a small, thick-paned plastic window in the door, but there is no doorhandle. "Close the door," comes the order again. How? I ask nobody; there's no handle. "Close the door!" Threatening now. Finally I grasp the edge of the thick door and swing it towards me, pulling my hand quickly out of the way. It takes a couple of tries, but the door finally swings fast enough that the momentum slams it shut.
(The next day I will discover that a curved indentation in the door can be used as a kind of handle for closing it. When I had just arrived, I lacked the capacity to process my surroundings and recognize a door handle in something so contrary as an indentation.)
I turn my back to the door and try to take in what I'm seeing. The cell is about seven feet wide, maybe, and perhaps ten feet deep where I'm standing. To my right, one corner of the cell is folded in, decreasing the overall size. The usual metal toilet and tiny sink jut out from that wall, further decreasing floor space. Two bunks (upper and lower) fill the far end of the cell from wall to wall. Between the bunks and the toilet are a tiny table and stool, both bolted to the floor. Every thing is metal. A two-bulb fluorescent fixture in the ceiling is merciless.
The lower bunk is occupied, which means the upper bunk is mine. "Hello," I say to the indistinguishable sheet-wrapped form on the lower bunk. A small voice comes back with, "Are you okay?" That turns out to be a question I will hear many times. "Yes, I'm okay," I say as I unfold the battered plastic mat on the upper bunk and unroll my bla nket to disclose two sheets and some "toiletries": a trial size tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush with a snubbed handle (looks like it is designed to fit into an electric toothbrushing system of some kind), a tiny plastic comb, the skimpiest towel in the world, and two minuscule bits of soap that look like they were collected from a failing cut-rate motel.
I try to stretch one sheet over the mat, then decide to finish "making the bed" after I get up there. But how? Later, when it is too late, I will realize that the table and stool have been positioned in such a way that one could use them as steps. There are things on the table, however, presumably things belonging to the form in the lower bunk. And even though those things are mostly wads of toilet paper, it doesn't occur to me to push them aside (toilet paper, after all, serves a multitude of purposes in jail), any more than it occurs to me that a table could be intended as part of a ladder. No, as far as I can see, I'm on my own. Nothing for it but to heave myself up un-aided.
I am glad to see that my cell-mate's mat leaves the far end of her metal bunk (the end furthest from the table, which is also the end opposite to the end she has chosen as the "head" of her "bed") uncovered. There is space for me to step up on her bunk without stepping on her pad or bedding. When I am standing on the floor, the bottom of "my" bunk is level with my chin. When I stand on the edge of her bunk, it is level with my armpits. Better, but still not good. The only way I can attain my bunk is to vault myself upwards as strongly as possible with my legs and then, when I have fallen precariously onto the upper bunk (hitting its sharp metal lip with my crotch), strive to heave my right let up onto the bunk and thus gain leverage for hauling the rest of me up after it. I perform this stunt perhaps 12 to 15 times over the course of my (blessedly brief) incarceration, producing some spectacular bruises on my groin and inner thigh.
One thing I forgot to say: It is cold. The booking area is cold, and I have been sitting there in short sleeves for hours. Now the "upstairs" turns out to be equally cold. A chill breeze is forced into every tank and cell through a grill high in every wall. Someone invariably has tried to exercise "climate control" by stuffing toilet paper into the openings of the grill, but it is impossible to shut it off altogether. The cold has penetrated to my core, and all I want to do is get some covers over me as soon as possible.
When I get the sheets and blanket (folded for extra layers) spread as well as I can, my next concern is for my neck. There is no pillow. My neck is used to a special pillow, a pillow designed for the kind of extra support my neck needs. What can I do for my neck under these circumstances? (My neck brace diappeared early, at the shoe stage.) The only thing I can come up with is the pitiful bit of towel. I roll it up, lie down, and position the rolled towel under my neck. Bad, but better than nothing. At least I was spared having to think about whether I "ought to" take off my clothes for sleeping. It was too cold! If I'd had anything other than what I already was wearing, I'd have put it on, too.
A foot and a half from my face, the fluorescent lights beat down. Oh, but, look, some clever person has figured out how to mitigate the effect somewhat. She has taken a tabloid-sized sheet of newspaper and stuck it up over the end of the light fixture nearest the bunks by means of six sanitary napkins used as stickum. What a good idea! If only the same arrangement could be applied to the remaining three feet of the fixture.
I close my eyes. From below: "Are you okay?" Yes, thank you, I say. Are you okay? "Yes, I'm okay. The lights should be dimmed soon."
Her words give me hope. And yet it seems like (and may very well have been) hours before the two fluorescent bars were switched off and the two smaller bars between them switched on. It was still light enough in the cell to read, and the light was still fluorescent, but at least there was less glare.
Meanwhile, I had just (finally) lulled myself to the very edge of sleep (by walking myself through the opening scenes of Pride and Prejudice) when: Bang! (echo) Bang! (echo) Bang! (echo). Someone was pounding on the cell door. I had been so close to blissful unconsciousness that I was totally disoriented at first. "Wha...???" I said. A voice (female) outside hollered, "If you don't get that down off of there by the time I dim the lights, I'm gonna come back here and --" (I can't remember what the threat was, but there was no mistaking that it was a threat). What? I said. You mean this?, pointing at the lovely newsprint-and-napkin light cover. "Get it down NOW!" was the reply. Wretchedly, I pulled the thing down and threw it on the floor. The lights dimmed not too many millennia after that, but I never was able to regain the state of relaxation out of which I'd been disturbed. No sleep for me that night.
In the morning, the cell door clanged open and somebody (male) said something loud from outside. I couldn't make out the words. My cell mate emerged from her cocoon. "Breakfast," she said, and went out. I followed. At the door of the cage (the cage within which our cell and three others was contained, as you'll remember) was a guard with a cart full of trays. My cell mate took a tray. I took a tray. Another woman appeared and took a tray. There was a bench affixed to the wall at "my" end of the cage. When I sat down there to look at breakfast, the guard said, "Back in the cell." I went back in the cell.
Breakfast consisted of "hot" cereal, a round slice of "meat," and two pieces of "brown" bread (with pats of butter). Oh, and a little carton of milk. I ate the bread and gave the rest to my cell mate, who introduced herself as Monique (though I am pretty sure it's not her "official" name).
Monique: long, wiry gray hair with some dark brown hanging on here and there, a wistful face, and a general puffiness. "You should drink the milk," she told me. "When we get older, we need the calcium." When she found out that I was 53 to her own 43, she remarked, wistfully, "We don't get the moisturizers and stuff in here...."
Monique's story: I am just so mad. Here I just meet my knight in shining armor, just the sweetest man, just perfect for me, I know this was the real thing, this was it, my knight in shining armor. And the cops are so mean. Why are they so mean, Jane? She actually waits for my answer. I fumbled out some theory, which she considers briefly before going on.
In summary: Monique had met her savior, the man who was going to change her life, to take care of her, to love her. And then the cops arrested her and ruined it all. Or...did I think he might look for her? He might visit her? Do you think he might, Jane? I think I might have left my duffel in his car. Unless I left it in the cafe. But if it's in his car, he might look through it? He might find my name and look for me?
Over time, I put some pieces together and figure out what happened. Monique is homeless. On Saturday night she met a man in a cafe. A Libra, she said. Did I know anything about Libras? (I had to confess ignorance on that point.) He was her knight in shining armor. But then she drank too much (not in the cafe, presumably; possibly they went on to a bar, or else they were drinking in his car). She always has trouble when she drinks too much. She isn't going to drink any more, she says, because she doesn't even like bars. But that night, he drove them someplace in his car, to the woods, she said. It was in the woods, a place they weren't supposed to be, maybe. (A park, is my guess, and Seattle parks do "close," officially, from late-night to dawn.) At any rate, he had just kissed her for the first time and told her she was a good kisser. And that's when the cops shined this very bright light into the car.
It was not an ordinary bright light. It was the brightest light she ever saw. And he (knight) kept saying, "we'll be out of here soon; they'll run a war rant check and then we'll be out of here," but she knew what he didn't know, that she had a warrant out on her from Everett. Sure enough, the mean cops ordered her out of the car and took her away and she doesn't know her knight's name, she isn't sure he knows her name, but.... If he really likes me he'll look for me, won't he. He'll look for me, won't he, Jane? And she waits for my answer.
She has no other topic of conversation and, when I try to introduce a new element, she passively, silently rejects it. The only variation is, "Do you think I'm pretty, Jane?" Or, "Does my hair look awful? You can tell me the truth. Does it look awful? I haven't been able to comb it, can't get that comb through it. Does it look awful?"
When I tell her, No, it does not look awful, she wants to know, "What does it look like?" This is not easy for me, but I come up with a word. It looks fluffy, I tell her. She is delighted.
Later, she adds a topic that alternates with that of the Knight and whether he will find her, whether she will ever see him again. "I was in a cafe," this topic line begins, or, "I was at that big store down there by the stadium," or, she was somewhere else, and "A man kept looking at me. He just kept looking at me. So I looked at him." She smiles, mugs, being feisty. "I stared right back at him." Sometimes the man disappears eventually, leading her to suspect that he has hidden himself at a vantage point where he will be able to see her when she leaves, to see if she leaves alone or with someone else. "Why was he staring at me, Jane? Why would a man stare at me like that? Do you think he was watching me leave? Why would he do that?"
She waited for my answers, and I made them up as coherently as I could. He probably thought you looked nice and wished he was brave enough to talk to you. "He thought I looked nice?" Yes, that's probably it.
Men were always staring at her, she said. Why? Because you have an aura, I told her. She smiled. And then she said, "What's an aura?" (I'd chosen the word partly because I thought anyone who dealt in astrological signs would be likely to know it. Apparently her knowledge of astrology was even less than mine.) An aura, I told her, is a light that shines out from within. People feel drawn to you because you are a shining person.
That was a good answer, I thought, and she seemed to like it, too. She retired to her bunk where I couldn't see her, but a minute later her voice reached me, asking, "Can a bad person have an aura?" No, I responded authoritatively. Only good people have auras.
I was on my bunk for most of this "conversation," which was intermittent and drawn out over many hours. For the first time in my life, I read an issue of Seattle Weekly from cover to cover. (It was lying on the floor of the cell when I got there, presumably passed out to the jail population because it's free and universally available.) My back, used to standing more than sitting (and, when lying down, used to a back pillow as well as a neck-adapted head pillow) began to show signs of rebellion early on, though, so I tried to vary my posture by standing some of the time. (I tried hard to use bunk time constructively, but with little success. My strongest effort was to do some planning for a writing project. Surely I should be able to develop an outline in my head, a structural plan of attack. Turns out I am too addicted to the written word. With no writing implement available, my brain refused to function outside a very narrow scope. And I was bitterly aware that, even if three-day was interpreted to mean I did not get out until Friday, I still wouldn't be in jail long enough to get my hands on a pencil. One orders commissary on Sunday and it is delivered on Monday. I had missed Sunday and therefore would have no pencil. Pens do not exist in the jail. Nor are there full-size pencils, come to that. The most you can hope for is to buy one of those three-inch eraser-less stubs commonly set out for use at library computer terminals.)
Only when I was down off my bunk was I able to see our cell's window. It ran the width of the cell immediately below the upper bunk, a slit about five inches high cut into the thick wall of the building. Thick plastic was bolted on over the cell side of the window, and another thick pane covered the outside of the slit. Through this twice-sealed slit we could see the freeway on the right, the top level of a parking garage straight ahead, and anonymous office-building windows on the left and behind the parking garage. Daylight was visible, too, but it didn't seem able to travel the depth of that slit, so none of it entered the cell. I could have mesmerized myself for an hour or two by watching the freeway traffic, except that being in a position to do so put me in Monique's line of sight and inspired more conversation than I wanted.
My other option was to stand at the door and look out its thick little window. I could see half the cage to which my cell belonged, the turned-off TV (hung from the ceiling right outside the cell), the bench where I'd tried to sit for breakfast, a pay phone on that same wall, and beyond the TV, the edge of the shower stall. Outside the cage, I could glimpse the top of the guard's head in his (or her) Control station, the stairs, and, on the other side of the stairway, another cage like ours. That cage had men in it. This part of the jail was supposed to be women-only. When the men's jail got too crowded, however, one section of the women's jail was reassigned for men. The result is that the women, who used to be let out of their cells into their cages for many hours every day, now are restricted to their cells almost all the time. One couldn't have the men out in their cage and women out in their cages at the same time, of course. There might be communication between them, and we can't have that.
The "new" jail seems worse to me than the "old" jail where I spent eleven days in 1978. Part of that feeling may be my age talking, but still. There's no more keys in the locks. Everything is operated from a distance by remote control. Shut up in that tiny cell, inside the cage enclosing the four cells, which is part of a two-tier structure of similar cages/cells ,I felt much more encased than I had felt in the "tank" at the old jail. Canned. Entombed. Not to mention being confined to the cell most of the time, compared to the relative spaciousness of the old jail's multi-person "tanks."
It was a very long day. We got a sack lunch, of which the only edible portion was the small orange. Luckily Monique didn't want her orange, so I got hers, too. And she got everything else in my bag.
Some time after that, Monique was called out for a visit. I was pleased for her, but she said it couldn't be anyone but her probation officer. She was right. Although I had tried to encourage her by saying at least she would be able to ask him when she would be going to court, that's not how it worked out. I had been looking forward to some time alone. Half an hour at least, I thought. But no. She was back almost immediately. In high dudgeon. "I really lit into him," she said, "I told him he had no business violating me again, and he said he didn't, and I told him, 'Don't bother lying to me, because the cops already told me it was you who violated me,' and he still said he didn't. Why would he say that, Jane?"
I had no answer for her that time. There didn't seem to be any use in pointing out that she had been arrested by chance, that the arrest itself was what "violated her" (violated the terms of her probation). Did you at least find out when you'll be going to court? I asked. "No, I was so mad, he just walked out."
After that, she told me that her sister wants her to go live with her and her husband in California. "She thinks I'm going to die, being homeless. But I'm not going to California. I don't know what it is, but I really like it here. I feel like it's my destiny to be here."
Later: "She says maybe it's only being in jail so much that's kept me alive this year."
And later still: "Maybe she's right."
At three o'clock in the afternoon, all the cell doors clang open at once. I know it is three o'clock because that is when we get to emerge from our cells into our cage. I also know that once we choose to leave our cells for this xuflebump (another bit of jargon I never manage to catch), the cell doors will be locked and we will not have access to our cells again until the next scheduled plyarup (or whatever the term is). That means we each, as we emerge into the cage, carry our white plastic cup.
I had begun to feel the onset of a migraine before our release into the cage. The sudden increase in stimuli (motion, voices, noises, TV) were sure to make my situation worse. Even though I knew a "full-blown" migraine was the only likely outcome, I was eager to be out of that cell, and eager also to find out who else was there.
As I noted before, the cage has two areas defined by the interruption of the shower and toilet. The area outside the cells at the other end of the cage has a table and benches in it, but it also has the air grate and therefore is even colder than the area down at my end. As a result, we all cluster together in one place. The other women are all young and all but one are black. The other white woman later announces that her father is from Sinaloa, making her half Mexican and therefore entitled to watch Univision for a while if she wants to. This announcement is taken in good spirit by the others. Despite being white, the half-Mexican clearly is part of the same community (or sub-culture) as the women who are black. Only Monique and I are outsiders there, not because we are white but because we do not speak the language, do not catch the references, do not know the same people, do not share the same experiences.
I have always been well-treated by women with whom I've been locked up. They tend either to overlook me in a benign way or to look out for me, apparently perceiving me as someone who may need guidance. (They are right, of course.) This time, there is a surprising modification to that familiar pattern. This time, the women address me as "Ma'am." My first thought was, It's because I'm so much older than they are. And that's probably the most of it. But later (mostly after the fact, when I had time and energy for thinking it over), it occurred to me that there may be other changes in me that add to my Ma'am-ness. It's hard to put into words, though.
The times I've been locked up before, I not only looked younger (even younger than I was at the time), I felt and acted younger. Less secure in myself. This is the first time, for example, when I haven't gotten "butterflies" about having to speak in court. Or about being in jail, for that matter. I don't like the thought of having to speak in court, and I hate the idea of being in jail. But the butterflies are gone. There is some kind of confidence in and about me now that I didn't have when I was younger. It makes me more self-sufficient -- internally, at least. (I certainly can't claim to be self-sufficient in more prosaic ways.) I may be wrong. It's possible that the other women in that cage were reacting only to my age as they adjusted their behavior to me (because their behavior to each other , although also positive, was so noticeably different). And naturally some of it must be attributed to culture, to the fact that I so clearly was from a different part of society. But I am tempted to assume that they, with their quick minds and sensitivity to social nuance, may have been responding in part to some elements in me that were not present (or were not yet "ripe") 25 years ago. Well, if I am mistaken and flatter myself unduly, I guess it doesn't really matter.
It felt deeply bizarre to have those women, all obviously so much more competent than I am (in that situation), calling me "Ma'am."
Three interesting (to me) observations I was able to make because the TV was on (of course) the entire time we were out in the cage. (By this time, it wasn't only the migraine blunting my ability to "take in" and interact with my surroundings. I am like a sponge: I can absorb quite a lot at first, but then I get "full" and am able to absorb less and less until I have a chance to "wring myself out" through silence and isolation.) First interesting observation: The TV usually was tuned to music videos, but one woman -- a physically beautiful black woman who struck me as "together" and mature and sensible and quick-witted/funny -- was ceded the privilege of changing to "The Nanny" when it was time for that sit-com. She likes that program. I can't imagine why -- but then, I've never watched it and couldn't gather anything from it that time because I was unable to hear/decipher anything out of the general noise. (Everyone but me seemed able to hear perfectly well, and to distinguish one person's words from another's. Whether this is further proof that I have a "central auditory processing disorder" or simply the usual autistic inability to focus on more than one stimulus, I have no idea.) What is there about "The Nanny" that makes it interesting to that woman? And why is it that, with (presumably) as much previous opportunity to appreciate the show, I had never felt any interest in it at all? One might think such a show would appeal more to the same kind of (apparently) "middle class" white people as the show is about than to a black woman who not only is in jail herself but also who has a son locked up at Shelton (a state prison) and a daughter on the lower tier of the jail.
Second interesting thing: The women who followed the music videos (who knew all the performers, etc.) reacted to an unexpected appearance by Snoop Doggy Dog in a way that surprised and impressed me. I know nothing about the man, but he seems to be some kind of "elder" in the music video world. It was as if a group from my demographic had NPR on in the background, half listening to it, and then suddenly heard Pete Seeger's voice. We would hush and stop to listen just as those women hushed and stopped to look at (and listen to) Snoop Doggy Dog. Makes me wish I knew more about him. Maybe I'll look him up on the web.
Third interesting thing: One of the most popular videos (we saw it more than once) included many elements from Japanese culture. Tea ceremony. Kimonos. Samurais. Karate. Japanese writing appeared on the screen now and then. My thought was, Maybe its makers want/expect this video to be popular in Japan, too. But soon I realized I was the only person in the cage who knew that what we were seeing was Japanese. Everyone else seemed to conflate all of Asia into "Chinese," and, indeed, to use "Chinese," "Asian," and "Oriental" as interchangeable terms. Since I work in a School for International Studies, I was led to think....mostly about how big the world is and how narrow it can seem.
I think ordinarily I see the world through telescope eyes. Iraq is more real to me than most of Seattle. In jail, I have to see through microscope eyes. Salutary for one in my (privileged) position. The women I met (listened to, mostly; women who are "about me always," in a sense, because they share this town with me, this one spot on the globe) are so clear in my memory now from that short time together. (Not that it does them any good. )
They, on the other hand, have little access (or recourse) to telescope eyes. When one of them asked me, "Excuse me, ma'am, but...what are you here for?" my first response was solidarity. I was there, I said, for the usual reason: I had been convicted of breaking the law. "No, but, excuse me, but you don't belong here." So then it came out. I had been demonstrating against the war. Oh, that explained it. That they could understand. They knew that (demonstrations) happened. And they were against the war, too, they assured me. (If only I were more glib, I could have delivered a lecture on the importance of registering to vote and then voting!) It was clear, however, that their lives are lived with little acknowledgment of a world outside the people and places they know first-hand. I t's not an unusual way to live. No different from the self-containment of many far more affluent communities. But it makes me sad to see anyone so unaware of the richness that is ours by virtue of our membership in the species. Spending large portions of one's youthful years in jail is so much less pleasant than wasting equal amounts of time in middle-class ways.
Dinner time arrived eventually. About 4:30 or 5:00? I'm not sure. Telling time by what's on TV has never been my strong suit. As soon as she saw the cart full of trays approaching, Monique came to whisper that, if I didn't want any of my dinner, she would take it. That was okay with me, but it reminded me unpleasantly of times at Alderson (federal prison), more than 30 years ago, when fellow prisoners occasionally got nasty with one another about dividing up my uneaten food. Dinner was nauseating. Naturally. I was well into the migraine by that time and having trouble with my stomach. Subjecting my olfactory system to the glop on the tray didn't help at all. I thought I should eat something, anyway, so I took the inevitable slices of "brown" bread. There was something green in one of the tray's compartments, and I took a few bites of that in hopes that it might be lettuce. Turned out to be greasy cabbage (cole slaw?). Monique happily shoveled the chicken-and-rice glop onto her own tray and, when the other women saw what she was doing, gracefully ceded my "pudding" to another.
The commissary orders arrived after dinner and were distributed by trustees. One woman in my tank got two bags full; most got less; a few got nothing. Although everyone put their purchases away immediately (cells were opened briefly for that purpose), those who had been able to buy food kept some out to share. Even Monique, who tended to keep herself somewhat apart, was given half a cup of coffee (instant, made with hot tap water) and a handful of what looked like fried pork rinds poured from a cellophane package.
The time dragged on and on. For half an hour or so, I managed to read a paperback copy of C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair that I had found over on the other side of the cage. I didn't (of course) have my special reading adaptation, the single lens that blocks out my right eye, enabling me to read without holding that eye closed with muscle power or a finger on the lid. It seemed a good omen that Lewis had found a way to me, despite his Surprised by Joy being taken away. But I couldn't keep it up for long. The migraine was stronger than I was. I grew dimmer and dimmer, less and less able to focus on those around me, having to spend more and more of my meager energy on not throwing up.
Finally came the long-awaited (by me, anyway) clang of the cell doors popping open in response to the push of a button by Control. This was not the end of cage time, I knew, but simply a pre-arranged opportunity to change one's status. Either one stayed out in the cage or, if one chose one's cell, one's cage privilege was over for the day. I was more than ready.
Heaving myself up onto the bunk, I pulled the coverings around me, pulled the bottom sheet down over my face, and did my best to lose consciousness. I had just managed (some time later -- an hour? two hours?) to achieve the state of bodily relaxation that is the only way to survive a migraine without medication, when --
CLANG. The door popped over. "Hey," voices said, "they calling you." I didn't want to move. But more information was solicited by calls through the bars to "Control." (That was a risky business, as I already knew. You had to know who was on duty. One woman guard was notorious for her unilateral nastiness. A general sigh of relief greeted her departure and replacement by a male guard with a better rep -- only to be followed by another sigh when, as someone commented, "The bitch is back.") My cage-mates quickly relayed the news: "You getting out!"
I couldn't believe it. Even with the most generous accounting, I hadn't been able to imagine that three days could end before Thursday afternoon. And here it was only Tuesday night! They must be mistaken.
But no. "Come on," they said, and one woman was brave enough to enter the cell (a big no-no) to help me. I was being released, they insisted, and I had to gather up my bedding and towel right away. She did it for me, handed it to me, ushered me out of the cell. "Just stand by the door where he [Control] can see you," they told me. And wished me well. I'd been there so briefly. They had been there longer and would be there much longer still. And yet they saw me go with smiles and good wishes.
I was glad to go. Hoping desperately for access to my migraines meds. Ha! Walking to the elevator and then back to the booking area brought my migraine back to full force. Agony. Nausea. Agony and nausea. Back in Number 2. At least the explosion of noise when that door is opened is a few decibels less than the door of Number One. A couple of new women in there, but I was in no shape to take in any details.
Over the next two hours, I broke my own rule and tried several times to get the attention of someone who could help me. To no avail. Couldn't lie down (someone already had Number Two's only bench). Too weak to stand up. Found myself pressing my thumb nails into my forehead by the bridge of my nose. Digging in, trying to dig out some of the pain. It didn't really last forever. Finally another woman and I (a very young woman, slight, brown, girlish) were led through to that room with the long counter which is the last place you are before you are released. One at a time (me last), we were called to a window to sign a form and be given our belongings. Then each into a little room like a department store dressing room -- alone at last! -- to put our street clothes back on and, in my case, dry-gulp a migraine pill. Back to the room with the counter. I automatically start to sit back down where I'd been told to before. "You got to go up there," the other woman tells me, pointing to the counter; "you got to sign something."
I go up to the counter, where a guard has two sets of forms laid out. Hers and mine. Near the top of mine, in letters clear enough for me to read through my migraine, it says "72 HR HOLD." Oops, I think to myself. It hasn't been 72 hours since I was in court. I don't (of course) say anything. I sign where I'm told to and return to the bench.
A minute later, the guard grunts and looks disgusted. He dithers for a minute and then gestures to the woman beside me. "Come on," he says, and he takes her to the door that I know leads to the outside world. She is gone.
Back behind the counter, he spends the next few minutes flinging papers around. Not looking at me. Looking mad. Then he gets on the phone, "Where is so-and-so?" He asks. Just then, so-and-so (anther guard) walks in. They confer over my file. I am holding my breath. "No, it's okay," the other guard says. He must be the supervisor. When the "three days" are in lieu of a fine, any little part of a day counts. That means my three "days" were: Monday (because I was locked up on Monday afternoon), Tuesday, and the first 15 minutes of Wednesday. They let me out, and I was able to get the 12:41 bus that got me home at about 1:15 a.m.