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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jerry In Stir - A Life Lesson

I just spent two days in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Tent City for making the questionable decision to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of the demon rum and its sundry sister ales. There has been ample written about the facility and much fear served into the hearts of would-be miscreants who would dare dream of driving while inebriated. Unfortunately, when one is impaired, one is not usually thinking of these articles, or available videos and billboards - one is simply attempting to maneuver their way safely and without incident to their point of origin. Or a brothel, or another dram house. I am not one to judge - my point is this: If one is not prudent in these choices, one will pay the price in dollars and cents for legal advice and fines, extra fees for counseling (whether it is your bag or not) and assorted other fancies such as a monthly charge for an interlock device (or Car BJ, as it is known in the business), towing and reclamation of your life in the name of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. A costly affair.

Tent City, in itself, is not bad in February. I have made a vow to myself that I fully intend to honor, that I will confine all of my criminal activities to the winter months. The nights are a trifle chilly, but nothing that can't be managed with four of the sheriff's pink blankets and a sturdy pea-coat. I imagine it is unbearable in the summer. The process of submitting one for incarceration is a seemingly simple one that is drawn out to take hours of time and years off the processee's life. I am nearly certain that I could streamline this clunky assembly line with little more than a decent project manager, two data entry individuals and a fully-charged tazer. It took me 12 hours from the point of recognition by authorities to the time when I was delivered, issued two blankets and cast into the shallows of Tent City. 12-Hours. That's three holding cells, a van that has no "off" switch for the heater and forty-five minutes of tap-dancing by the staff to tell me where the toilets are and to not put my penis through the fence for the delight and satisfaction of the female inmates on the other side. Seriously.

I was warned by my counselor not to touch the food issued and upon espying the vittalia decided that he was spot-on in his recommendation. I ate 7 grapefruit from the lunch sacks in two days, forgoing all other options, augmented by two RC Colas and a bag of peanuts and some cheddar pretzels from the "Commissary", which consists of six vending machines in a tiny room. I was told that all items - from the striped uniforms worn by those in the "General Population" to the lunches in the bags and the snacks in the vending machines are donated by others and that the proceeds from the commissary are handled by Sheriff Joe's daughter who has, incidentally, been arrested. I am not one to complain - America was built on this kind of opportunity. Sounds like a fantastic gig.

I met and organized a posse while in the holding tanks, mostly made up of young men - aged 19-28, who appreciated my take on the situation and my random suggestions for improvement. They called me "Boss", which I appreciated and each other "homeboy" or "homey". I nicknamed them, respectively, "Speedbump", "Kickstand", "Play-Doh" and "Bric-A-Brac". They seemed to enjoy these names and took to call each other by them, an act for which I took great pride. They asked me how jail was run in the Civil War and I obliged them with lofty tales of intrigue and espionage and they in turn filled me in on pills - narcotics, uppers, downers, muscle relaxers and speed, for which I had no intelligent reply. They did not hold this slack-jawed confusion against me and brought me goods from the commissary, so that I need not risk "breaking my hip". Cute little bastards...

There was a tall, soft-spoken black man who looked exactly like Larry Holmes, minus the space in his teeth and the lisp who had been "in the system" since he was eighteen and dispensed infinite wisdom, free of charge, about the court system, jail, release, protocol and cautions throughout my stay. I declared his knowledge so valuable that he should have an "ESQ" after his name. Henceforth, he was known as "Esquire". A seedy little fellow, with a huge nose and large brown, shifty eyes darted about the tents trying to sell cigarettes (not allowed on premises) for $2 each and claimed to be dealing in the pill trade with which the youth seemed to be so indoctrinated. His Modus Operundi was to sell a cigarette for two dollars, then bum a puff off the person to whom he had sold the smoke. "No way," Kickstand told him in no uncertain terms. "You've got a sore on your lip." He was called "HERPES" from that moment forward. Herpes later got his ass kicked by another individual in the lockup for attempting to shave some ciggie-money. I heard about it later.  So it goes for thieves in the stir.

If there was a single horrific aspect of being confined to the tents, aside from the affected assholishness of the staff (who did nothing that I could see, aside from berate those below via the loudspeaker and scoff at those who addressed them face to face) was the stink that enveloped the premises late at night. Located near the landfill, I had assumed that the smell was methane escaping from the chimneys that pocked the fill to allow for the lethal gas's escape. I was told, however, that the stench was that of animals being incinerated by the humane society. I pulled the blanket up over my nose every night to escape the noxious aroma and thought about the pets facing their final solution. It was in the air and inescapable and thoroughly disgusting.

I approached Mark Grace (Former Cub/Diamondback first baseman), who happened to be starting his four months in the joint the weekend I was there and he couldn't have been nicer, I introduced myself as "Jerry Ford" (which always gets a second look), told him I was a big fan and told him that if he needed anything, he should simply ask my boy, Bric-a-Brac. He nodded politely. I then told him that I had lived in Chicago for ten years and had followed him for most of those. "I am so sorry," he said. I went on to tell him of the saloon on Rush Street that we had visited from time to time which had a poster-sized photograph of Mark Grace mounted on the wall. It was one of those pictures that was taken with the horizontal lines longer than the vertical ones that pictured Mark Grace stretched out to gather in a throw from first base. He was stretched into splits worthy of Nadia Comeneche, with his nutsack nearly dragging in the infield dirt, his glove reaching out to accept the toss from the first baseman or the short stop. That in itself was poetic, but the look on Gracie's poster-face was nothing less than magical. Never had I seen such a serene character, simply smiling and waiting for the throw. It was majestic and we spent the rest of the evening in the tavern trying to figure out a way to steal the poster to mount in our home. We ended up leaving emptyhanded, but with a keen buzz and I might have turned something over on my way out in my frustration. It is my way.

"I can't even stretch to tie my fucking shoes," Grace told me after the story. I thanked him for his time and walked away and called Bric-a-Brac off from shanking the former major leaguer when the lad thought he had been disrespectful. "It's okay," I said. "He's gotta spend his whole life being Mark Grace - this has to be tough..." Bric-a-Brac watched Grace fold himself into his blankets early and nodded. "I suppose so," he said. I wondered if he understood. Bric-a-Brac and his kind were a bloodthirsly lot.

The rest of the weekend went smoothly and it took six hours for release. Again, I made mental notes regarding the necessity for a good project manager and scribe. The rest could be upgraded by force and rechargeable tazers.

1 comment:

  1. Not since "Les Mis" have I encountered a more blatant abuse of justice; not since "The Bridge on the River Kwai" has an imprisoned man made so much of his time under the lash of a guard. Inspiring. Cautionary. Accurate. There but for the Mark "Grace" of God go us all. Well done laddie.