I made a huge mistake. Perhaps because I kicked Faith out of my room and subsequently got charged for destruction of property and simple assault. Or was it because I hauled ass right after she picked up her stuff and called the police. My true mistake was neither and neither do I regret turning myself in at the local precinct. It was the fact that I showed up too late in the day that I could literally kick myself for being ignorant and tardy.
In Wards 7 & 8, after the precinct locks you up, they wait until they accumulate a van full of detainees before you get transported across the river to the Downtown courthouse in Judiciary Square. The police department normally makes this trek twice a day – once at daybreak and once at midday. If you miss the earlier trip, you gotta just hold tight for the next ride, even if it means spending the night.
MPD doesn’t make special trips for any prisoner unless your name is Jane Fonda or Charlie Sheen. There is too much congestion on the Frederick Douglas Bridge, and I sure wasn’t gonna pony up for a flight on the air support unit aka “falcon.”
On Feb 15, 2016, I showed up at the Seventh District police department, colloquially called 7D, and the officer on watch informed me that there didn’t seem to be a warrant for my arrest.
So without hesitation, I walked out and no more than five minutes later, two police cruisers had pulled out in front of me on busy Alabama Ave, like I was Al Capone in a shootout. Sad to say, I was relieved to be finally arrested, and before I could be released had to face the music downtown.
By the time we arrived, it was too late to see the judge, so we had to spend the night at the J.W. Marriott maximum security prison aka “holding cell.”
“Should have turned me in first thing in the morning so I could get arraigned and released,” I reminded myself. The guy sitting next to me turned his head with an open gaze as if I was speaking Greek.
There’s no bail in DC so everyone (about 90% of us) except for the hard-core offenders gets to see the light of day. We all get to leave the Moultrie Courthouse like lost souls from the Game of Thrones.
I sat in my cell twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the booking process that seemed to stretch like infinity war. In prison, every hour seemed like a whole day. I could smell the putrid rank of urine and feces. How did people survive even a year here? As a rat scurried across my feet – my cellmate sat unfazed – I went batshit crazy, hoping he wouldn’t find the stash of Nutraloaf.
My cellmate was a born and bred criminal. He came in and out of jail like it was a revolving door and was an ole timer – shared endearing memories of the Lorton Reformatory in Laurel Hill, Virginia, like it was a paradise villa.
“I’ve been arrested so many times, I’ll put Lindsay Lohan to shame.”
“Damn. So how are conditions in the city prison?” I asked.
“There are rodents and mildew everywhere – the DC jail is so horrible that spending a year there is like spending 5 in Lorton.”
“Do the guards treat you well?”
“Sh*t if you misbehave, they’ll shut the water off on you. Can’t flush, can’t wash your hands.”
I crinkled my nose in disgust, then it was time to get my glamour shot and fingerprinting putting dark ink in little squares, and then was rudely ushered back to my room.
It all started one evening when I returned to Lebaum Street with a prospective tenant who wanted to see the room in the basement. It was vacant since I was occupying the room only when I was in town. And I wanted to rent it out since Faith was not paying the rent for her room upstairs.
To my surprise, I found Faith lying on my bed in the basement watching TV and eating Cheetos, like this was her palace.
“What are you doing here?” I asked incredulously.
Faith looked up, rolled her eyes, and continued eating her snacks as if she had every right to be there.
“Get out of my room now!” I demanded.
Faith slowly started to get up but was a bit too measured to my liking. Since my guest was in a hurry to leave and I was her ride, I stepped in and offered a hand, grabbing her snacks from the coffee table and throwing it outside the room.
Next was the remote control. Faith resisted and I pulled it away from her flailing hands and threw it out.
“I have a guest – I don’t have time to wait on you!” I affirmed.
“I’m going to call the police,” she threatened.
“Fine, do whatever you want – just stay out of my room.”
Obviously, the prospective tenant lost all interest in moving in. She found the experience quite traumatic, and for me rather repulsive.
Meanwhile, Zahera texted me and informed me that the police showed up and wrote up a report.
Ok, I’m not worried. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t ask Faith what had transpired – I figured it was best not to confront her.
Thankfully the following week was without incident until the police showed up at the house looking for me. The purpose wasn’t clear, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there was probably a warrant for my arrest.
* * *
And by the time I returned to my luxury suite, my cellmate was in deep slumber. I was surprised he fell asleep so quickly, but then I remembered he was a perennial prisoner – this was par for the course.
There was no bed. The metal frame was as hard as cast iron. I would have much rather slept on a concrete freeway in the middle of the Springfield mixing bowl. Thankfully cold steel didn’t attract bed bugs, but I still wouldn’t be getting a lick of sleep. Perhaps this inhumane treatment would de-incentivize people from committing crimes. Instead, it succeeds in dehumanizing inmates, so that they have no hope but to return.
No subsistence all day except for a stale salami and cheese sandwich, and I only got one with a Tropicana juice packet. The bread was so hard I felt like I was eating cardboard. There was no trash can, so we just throw our trash on the floor adding to the rodent problem. Worse would be dumping plastic wrappers down the toilet clogging the toilet and backing up the sewer line.
Then the lights flickered like a candle in an eerie cell and it’s now the dreaded sack time.
I wanted desperately to go to sleep to put this nightmare behind me.
I hoped that the person in the cell across the hall would shut the hell up.
He was challenging everyone to a fight, even me. No way was I to give him eye contact.
And he was griping about the conditions here.
“45 years ago there was a hostage standoff in DC Jail to demand better conditions. It’s time we have another riot!” he yelled.
There was shrieking and yelling down the hall – was someone dying. The sordid thoughts of what could be ran through my mind.
My cellmate was snoring so loudly now. Wish I had my headphones so I had to drown out the noise.
So I had an idea. I would do a pre-trip out loud. That was the only way to get it drilled in my head since my test was coming up.
• Check the tires
• Check the lights
• Look for a lean and leaks.
I was on a roll – the next thing I know I was mimicking shifting through all ten gears like a racer driver. If you don’t have a tractor trailer, an air stick is the next best thing, and in jail, my imagination was the only escape from utter insanity.
I drove the turnkey crazy by reciting these steps – but it was the only thing I could do to keep my sanity, and of course to drown out the noise from my cellmate sawing logs.
“Alright knock it out,” he demanded “Now let’s get some shut-eye – the two of you.”
Finally, I dozed off but I kept on waking up afraid that I would find my cellmate on top of me. But how could he, he was still at his end mowing hay. And I looked down for rats hoping one wouldn’t be attracted to fresh meat.
Before I knew it, sunlight streamed through the window slits on the wall. This was the only way I could tell time or else I was in the twilight zone.
The corrections officer was slamming doors, introducing us to his version of reveille.
We were all given something that resembled breakfast – a danish, burnt bacon ends, perhaps juice – then herded into one tiny room, we packed in like seafood in an Asian market. Some prisoners were charged with felony assault. There was one take out delivery man who pointed a BB gun at a customer for short changing him. I could see a man crying after finding out what he was facing. Some prisoners were lucky and charges were not papered at all – they were celebrating like they just struck gold in the DC lottery.
Then finally after hours of waiting in utter suspense, my group of five was escorted in the courtroom with chains and shackles.
When it was my turn, I was charged with the destruction of property and simple assault – a misdemeanor.
That was when I met my public defender “No worries,” she whispered to me. “You’re a first-timer, they’ll offer you diversion.”
The judge instructed me not to talk to Faith. That would be difficult especially since she’s my tenant and resides in the same house. I would have to talk to her regarding safety and security issues and maybe even ask for rent. And for the record, Zahera was upset by this whole ordeal and was no longer speaking to Faith.
Zahera was never really my tenant. One late summer day, when the crickets were chirping loudly, Faith moved her into the house and crudely informed me that her girlfriend would now be staying with her. I did not approve of her guest, but in DC there was little recourse for landlords. Eventually, the two broke up and I agreed to let Zahera stay in the other bedroom as long as she could pay her rent. Even as she struggled to do that, she provided a vigilant eye over Faith and all her unfaithful doings. And Zahera was not originally from DC or from this country as a matter of fact. She was half Ethiopian and half Italian and her radiant skin glowed with beauty.
After the hearing, I was finally released but with no money or ID. I was elated to see daylight but for once in my life felt like a man with a stolen identity.
They told me I could use my red wristband to ride the metro for free. I was too ashamed to even have it on. You can usually point out the people who just got released – they’re the ones with a big smile and no shoelaces.
Tomorrow I could return to 7D to retrieve my wallet and cash. Next time I won’t bring so much money with me – I’m not going to the casino. Dress comfortably and don’t wear a belt or shoestrings.
If you’ve never spent a night in prison, it’s definitely an eye-opening experience. Not something I would want to relive, but an experience that would make me tougher to survive the days ahead.
And if you’re gonna turn yourself in, best to do so at the crack of dawn. Those apprehended across the river may not make it in time to address the Judge.
When I returned home, I immediately noticed something was amiss. There was no usual squawking to welcome me home. I ran over to look at Apollo’s cage and noticed someone had opened the door and there were bird seeds everywhere.
“Where’s Apollo,” I yelled desperately.
“He’s gone,” Zahera answered glumly. “Faith let him fly outside.”
I was saddened beyond belief. I looked everywhere, even brought out his cage, and his favorite Bonka Bird toy. I scattered sunflower seeds and peanuts everywhere.
“Apollo, Come home to Papa!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
But sadly, he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps he had flown far, far away.