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.”
I showed up at 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 on 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 see the judge, so we had to spend the night at the J.W. Marriott maximum security prison aka “holding cell.”
“Should have turned myself in first thing in the morning so I could get arraigned and released,” I reminded myself. The guy sitting next to me turns 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. 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 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’s rodents and mildew everywhere – the DC jail is so horrible that spending a year there is like spending 5 in Lorton.”
So I got my glamour shot and got fingerprinted with the dark ink in little squares, and then was 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.
[ Image: 500 Lebaum St SE DC.jpeg ]
Rental house on Lebaum St, SE DC
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.
Meanwhile, Zaylee 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 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 a probably a warrant for my arrest.
And by the time I returned to my luxury suite, my cell mate 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 crime. 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 for 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 – 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 cell mate 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 waiting in utter suspense, my group of five were escorted in the court room with chains and shackles.
When it was my turn, I was charged with 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, Zaylee was upset by this whole ordeal and was no longer speaking to Faith.
Zaylee 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 Zaylee 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.
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.