So here is the story of why I was in jail all weekend:
On Friday night I was in Manhattan and drinking at one of my favorite bars, getting pretty blitzed by myself. It was a pretty lousy night so far so I was determined to get wasted and just spend time talking to strangers (an old habit of mine, usually harmless). Two of my friends who were going to meet up with me bailed out because they were too tired. So by 2am I was pretty smashed when my old friend Scott walks in the bar. I say what's up to him and we start drinking. He and I go back about 6 or 7 years through a mutual interest in hip hop and graffiti. At some point we talk about tagging and we decide it's a nice evening so why not go out with some 40s and tag the neighborhood until sunrise, on some old school shit.
So we go to the corner store and buy 40s and some shoe polish in the plastic bottles with the diagonal felt end. They're like improvised markers basically. We set out drinking and tagging benign, already heavily graffitied shit like vestibules and mailboxes and such.
On East 7th Street I go to tag a doorway. I'm like staggeringly drunk at this point; I can't see straight. All I remember is tagging up the door and all of a sudden a burly fellow and his fratty-type friend are yelling at me. Scott books it down the block, I haven't seen him since. I drop the shoe polish and run off with my 40 in my hand. The fratty guy gives chase. I've never been a particularly good sprinter so halfway down the block he clips my heel with a kick and I hit the concrete. He starts kicking me, in my nose and ribs and so I lean up and while he's bent down I smack the 3/4-full bottle upside his head. He moves back and the burly guy moves in and kicks me some more. I got blood just pouring out of my nose and all over the sidewalk and my clothes. This is where I black out.
Next thing I know I'm sitting on the sidewalk and there's a cop standing over me. There's another cop talking to the dudes and walking around with a flashlight looking for the shoe polish and the 40. Me and the dudes exchange a few words because the story they tell the cops is: I tagged the door--they caught me--I assaulted them. I tell the cops no, no, no, I admit to tagging the door but I hit the kid in self defense because he was beating me up and I hadn't even touched him. The police let me smoke a couple cigarettes and then they tell me the good news is I'm not being charged with assault. The bad news is I'm getting charged with 1 count of making graffiti. I think, Ok, not so bad. A ticket at most. Wrong.
I'm cuffed and put in the police car. This is when it sinks in that I've pretty much fucked up royally. Just a week ago I was heading out to go drinking and I thought how great it was that I've never been arrested. I guess I jinxed myself. One cop is very friendly and notes my civility and responds in kind. The other cop is just kind of a jock-ish fellow. He gets in the car and says "Your tag sucks, bro." I just say thanks. We pull up to 2nd Avenue and an unmarked car pulls alongside us. It's the precinct sargeant. He leans out the window and asks the officers "so this is our graffiti wizard, huh?" and smiles at me. I just nod at him.
At the station house I'm allowed to wash up and finger printed and mug shot is taken and all that. The shitty part: I counted 68 dollars in my wallet right before they put me in cuffs. At the station the cops ask me how much I had on me. "68 dollars exactly," I say. The officer puts one 20 in my wallet and hands it to me. "You had less than you thought, bro." Fuck. Plus I had two unopened packs of cigarettes I'd bought at the bar that they also kept, refusing to put them in my belongings bag along with my iPod and cell phone. I thought that was in pretty poor taste.
I'm in the holding cell by myself at the precinct for about 2 hours. I sleep a little. It's very quiet. Around 6:30 the officer comes back in. We chat a bit, small talk about sports and where I grew up and all that. At one point I say, "You know, officer, I've never been in trouble before, this was just a stupid, stupid mistake." He responds with "It's okay, shit happens. You drink and sometimes you do dumb stuff." So that made me feel somewhat less guilty. Eventually he puts me back in cuffs and leads me into the precinct lobby. There he says "ok, sadly this is where we part ways. These officers will take you to Central Booking downtown." A young Latina officer (very cute) and some run of the mill white cop take me down to 100 Centre Street, affectionately known in NYC as "the tombs".
On the way down it’s morning outside and I’m making small talk with the cops up front. I ask them what’s going to happen. They break it down for me: I’m going to a holding cell with a bunch of other dudes who’ve been arrested that night. A judge shows up at 10am and I’ll appear before him. Then I’ll get to go home, probably with a ticket, if anything. This is pretty relieving to hear. The cops make a point to tell me that I’ll probably be home in a few hours.
We get to Central Booking and another set of mug shots is taken. A kindly old black man asks me if I’m injured and need to go to the hospital. I decline. As I’m waiting to be processed, me and the Latina cop start talking. She tells me she’s 26 also and I ask her what kind of arrests she usually makes. She says mostly drinking-related stuff and graffiti. Her douchebag partner comes back in and tells me to shut my mouth.
They lead me into a big pen with about 20 other dudes. This is where I’m kind of nervous. There are some thugged out teenagers in there but also some old men sleeping and some weary-looking drunk people of all ages and backgrounds. Of the 200 or so arrested folks on our cell block, I later find out, only five are white. They were all in for DUIs.
I sit on the floor and I realize within minutes that this is going to be a pretty chill environment. It’s not going to be like make-someone-your-bitch-quickly-or-get-shanked. It’s a very calm environment, everyone is just sort of sitting and thinking. A soft-spoken black kid asks me what I’m in for and I tell him. This makes me the popular guy with the teenagers, the 26 year old who did graffiti and got his ass whupped by white dudes. All night they’re asking me about tagging and how long I’ve done it and how do you do it and all that. I ask the kid what he’s in for; he knocked out two police officers up on 135th Street after they tried to arrest his sister for smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk.
It was pretty soon that I realized that NYC is a pretty damn racist place in terms of policing. Some of these kids were in here on serious charges (firing guns off in the street, beating up people) but a lot of them were in there on total bullshit. (One kid was arrested and jailed since Thursday morning for walking between train cars on the subway while it was moving. I mean seriously, they can’t just write a ticket for that?) A lot of these kids are sort of shit out of luck: they get arrested on a bullshit charge. They get released and go back to a largely minority neighborhood swarming with police. The cops pick them up again 48 hours or a week or a month later and find something new to arrest them for. It helps beef up the crime stats in the neighborhood, makes the city look safer but it results in a sort of continual shitstorm for these kids. Eventually they get charged with a felony and sent upstate. Or they just go in and out of jail and courts until they can’t do shit with their lives and commit a serious crime. But that’s not the extent of the de facto racism. One of the guys we all liked in our cell was a 70-something Chinese man. He was arrested for drinking a beer in a park near Mott Street. That’s it. How many times do you see some construction worker guys from Long Island drinking a cold one with their lunch out on the sidewalk in front of a work site? Do they ever get arrested? The shit is ridiculous. One old black guy who looked like the grandfather from Roc was arrested on his stoop for sipping a Guinness. The real criminal shit is how the police get away with this kind of stuff and pass it off as effective police work.
The worst part of being in jail is how slow time moves. There’s nothing to do but sit and think about how badly you fucked up. So I would sit there for what seriously felt like an hour and then look at my watch and realize it had only been four minutes since I had last checked. It’s agonizing. There’s talking to others but that just makes you feel worse. Basically one loudmouth walks around the cell and talks and you just listen to whatever he says. It kind of saves you from your thoughts and if it’s a funny guy it helps time pass. Our guy was a 16 or 17-year-old Puerto Rican kid from Washington Heights who bragged about his girlfriends and went on and on switching from English to Spanish. He wasn’t too annoying. At one point we all went around and told our story. The funniest was the soft-spoken kid from Polo Grounds Houses way up on 155th Street. He was with his friend waiting to get into Avalon, a club in Chelsea. They got into an argument with some other kids so he pulled a gun out and shot it in the air to scare them. Next thing he knows, a mounted police officer on a horse is chasing him down 20th Street. He let himself get caught while his friend escaped. There were a lot of jokes about this. “So you let a motherfuckin’ HORSE arrest you, nigga?” “Damn, nigga what the fuck you thought the horse was gonna do, bite your ass?” “Nigga I woulda just gone in the motherfuckin subway ya heard, ain’t no horse gonna fit in there.” It was pretty funny and helped us all laugh some.
At one point I checked my watch and it was three in the afternoon. I started to realize that I was not going to be leaving this place in a hurry. Everyone in my cell was arrested Friday night or early Saturday. Every hour or so the guards (known as COs – “Corrections Officers”) would come by our cell with printouts of who was to go upstairs to see a judge and be released. Each hour it was just one or two names. Sometimes they’d just go to another cell and not even stop at ours. I began to lose hope. You hear a lot of rumors while waiting. One kid said “Yo, I heard we’re all gonna be in here for like 72 hours and shit. We ain’t gettin’ out ‘til Monday.” It actually hurt to hear that kind of stuff. Another kid said “Yo, I heard this judge isn’t letting anyone out. He’s givin niggas like 20,000 dollars bail and shit, no matter what. He gave a kid 20,000 bail for stealing four blow pops from the store, yo.” This made me feel even more nervous. Two things can happen when you see the judge: you can get released with a court date or they set bail. If they set bail it means you’re not going anywhere. You have to find the money but until then they process you as an actual inmate. That means a strip search, your clothes get confiscated and you’re sent to Rikers Island or upstairs to the actual jail at 100 Centre. Both places are where men get made into bitches. The holding cells we were in are just sort of social clubs, the first ring of hell in the NYC corrections system. Since I prefer not to be someone’s bitch, I was sincerely hoping the judge would be lenient on me.
Around 4pm they fed us. Cheese sandwiches. Disgusting. I didn’t touch them. There’s one toilet in the cell only semi-walled off for privacy so I wasn’t trying to have to go take a shit. They give you milk to drink and I wasn’t about to have that so I just had some water that comes out of the filthy metal sink. At this point they still were calling people to see the judge at a glacial pace so I decided the only way to pass the time was to sleep. I had a pretty fitful sleep where all I dreamt about was how I fucked up and how there was absolutely nothing on Earth I could do to escape this situation. I just had to wait. It was pretty lousy. I eventually woke up around 9pm. There’s a judge in court on Saturday until 1am. So I had 4 hours to make it out of there. Luckily, right as I wake up a CO is approaching our cell with a huge stack of printouts. He announces “alright you guys got lucky, we gotta clear you out and there’s 22 names here.” I wait and sure enough they call my name.
We’re lead upstairs to a new pen. On the way the CO warns us against talking or asking him anything. All the COs were total dicks. I seriously think they were all molested as children. The always made huge point of calling us all faggots and using expressions like “I like fucking women, don’t get it twisted.” I sincerely think they’re all a bunch of repressed homo pussies. They wouldn’t talk half the shit they do if they were in some of the neighborhoods the guys in my cell come from. And they probably all live out in the suburbs. Interestingly, I didn’t see one white CO. The entire staff was black and Hispanic men and women. There are some real self-hate issues with race up in that joint.
Upstairs I wait and wait and it gets to be midnight. I realize with a sinking feeling that it’s just impossible that I’ll get out tonight. Sure enough, at 12:30 the CO comes to our pen and announces that we’re the last 37 up for court tonight. We’ll be going back downstairs to the holding cells. We’ll sleep until 5:30 am when we’ll be brought back up here. Court will start at 9am and we’ll be the first 37 in line to see the judge. We should all be out by noon tomorrow, he says. It should be noted that throughout this whole ordeal other COs will come by and tell you shit to try and demoralize you. For every one CO who tries to break down a hopeful time frame for you, another will come by and say that you might not get called up until Monday, no matter how close you seemingly get to seeing a judge. It’s very frustrating.
So we went back downstairs and I managed to sleep after finally eating some Frosted Flakes they gave us. I had to eat something because I was so hungry and sleep deprived that I was starting to hear sounds that just weren’t there, like old men groaning and women having sex and shit. No joke, it was pretty fucked up. So I ate some of the dry cereal and passed out. At 5:30 one of my cellmates woke me up and we all stood ready to go upstairs. We got up there and I went back to sleep and waited to wake up at 9 when they began calling people to court.
A little after nine a legal aid summoned me to one of those separated talking booths. His name was Evan and he was my age, very dapper and smart. He actually looked like an attorney from 1967, with big glasses and a thin tie and all. He told me what I wanted to hear: since I had no record and this was a very minor offense, I’d be going home in a couple of hours and that in all honesty, this case would probably be dropped. If anything, I would probably be given the equivalent to a prayer for judgment, where the charge would stay open for six months. If in six months, I wasn’t arrested again, the case would be dropped. I thanked him and then I went back to waiting.
Finally after a couple hours I was called into the courtroom. The DA’s prosecutor was a pretty girl about my age, blonde, looked very smart. The judge was an older woman, very Upper East Side, probably about 50-something. There were about six people ahead of me and she was letting them all go without setting bail, even the kid who knocked out two cops. She was a very lenient judge so I was relieved. But I was still nervous because you never know. She could take one look at me and decide I was in need of a hard lesson, I worried.
Finally my turn came up and I joined Evan at the bench. The blonde prosecutor read out my charge and added: “The people recognize the defendant’s lack of a criminal record and ask for 200 dollars municipal fine in addition to one day of community service.” Evan responded with “Absolutely not, your honor this defendant has never been in trouble in his life, he has a full time job and admitted to the arresting officer that he made a drunk, stupid mistake.” The judge paused and looked right at me and then said “I agree, I’m releasing him. In lieu of a corroborating deposition from the witness [one of the guys who beat me up] I’m setting a court date for June 25th.” With that, I was free. I walked out into a cloudy Sunday morning and my God, I have never felt anything like it before, the weight just off my shoulders. I really wanted to kiss the ground or hug a tree but instead I found the Chambers Street station as fast as I could and got on the first express train uptown. In an hour I was back home in Queens and telling a surprised and relieved Jerff what happened.
So to wrap it all up: I learned my lesson. I feel shitty about it. I made a huge mistake. I have to go to court in a month and I’m nervous. I feel pissed that I had to spend a weekend in jail for writing my name on a wall. I feel like NYC is a pretty soulless place hell bent on serving those who can afford to buy expensive property in it. I feel like I have no right to complain because I fucked up. I feel bad for the others in there who are going to be harassed by cops all their lives. I realize now that I’m never going to go back to jail, if it means never drinking scotch again. I realize I’ll probably drink again soon but I’ll be damned careful about it. I’m just glad it’s over.
paul, you should get arrested more often. it makes for really good reading.
p.s. is everyone working for the government our age now? wtf?
who else is working for the government? is it anthony? I BET ITS ANTHONY
also, joey: if you're not busy, not this friday but next friday, i just thought of something fun we could do.
FOR ONE CRAZY WEEKEND yes
all jokes aside this is pretty hard, paul
yeah pretty HARD to READ
am i rite
lots of words
who wants to go tagging friday? MAYES?
yeah we can tag the shit out of raleigh
oh and i forgot to mention that this whole evening started out weird when i got on the subway to go to the city and the kid from arrested development got on at 49th with his main bitch. i shoulda known it was gonna be a rough night after that.
his son. and joey and i found the myspace page for both him and the girl he was with. i am an amazing internet detective.
plz don't bring me into this i didn't do anything
I keep going back to the $68.00 like it's a Scorsese movie or something. Freeze frame as the crooked cop pockets the money with some Rolling Stones song playing over it. Glad you're okay Paul.
damn paul, holy shit. i'm glad you're okay, and had no idea of the craziness you went through. so i guess all of us here in nyc are gonna be extra careful now. i'd rather read a billion grocery store rants than another story like this from one of us.
thanks brian and burton. actually, you know, i was brushing my teeth this morning and i felt really shitty because i suddenly realized that it's actually hard to get arrested in nyc. (unless you're black or hispanic.) i mean, i've caroused around drunk at all hours in the east village, drinking on stoops and so forth for years but it finally took rampantly tagging doors and brawling in the street to end up in the clink. so of course, be careful, but it really was my own stupidity that put me where i was. of course, i think going to jail for graffiti is silly but that's another rant.
it's just worrisome to know that our revolving door justice system put a menace like you back on the streets again. don't they know graffiti is a gateway crime?
since you posted that i've killed six people
it's weird how similar this is to the time i went to (not get picked for) jury duty-- except most of the people were white, and i don't think they fed us.
that's the most i've ever read at once