The movies and television shows we watch definitely affect how we perceive reality. At least a reality we have yet to experience. We cannot fully blame ourselves for the things we think of when we hear about jail simply because most of us have never experienced it firsthand. Some of the clichés are real and truly scary, but others are myth and urban legend. I was about to discover which was which and was rather uneager for the experience.
First is this: every description of the cell door closing for the first time you have ever read or heard described are all one-hundred percent wrong. It resonates into the marrow of your bones and shatters any confidence you felt the need to fake. Your entire room suddenly shrinks to the size of a college dorm room and you are trapped with your new roommates. There is not even a wall around the toilet for privacy; in fact, there is no more privacy at all.
The next cliché I encountered was the round table discussion of each person’s crimes. I always thought of it as simply a quick narrative device used by poor authors, but it really does happen. We gathered in a circle with some of us on beds and some on the floor sitting Indian-style. There was a hushed tone to the voices. The stories told me that each of twelve men I shared a room with were real criminals. There was pride in their voices as they shared their charges with each other, almost like a group of anglers telling the tales of “the one that got away.”
“They got me for holding up a store.”
“I was drunk and got into a fight.”
“Assault and battery.”
“I didn’t do anything.” Got that one a few times.
“I was firing a gun.”
Then it was my turn. I was embarrassed for having something so boring to tell. Would they just think I was an idiot for getting caught doing something so minor? Should I make something up since I might be in here for a while?
I choose to tell the truth. I suck at lying and always have. It is not that I am not convincing when I lie, but rather that I have a horrible memory for the lies I tell. My mother learned early on in my life to ask me something twice if you do not believe the first answer. If you get the same answer the second time then it is true: works every time.
I looked down into my knees as I sat on the floor. I was no longer sitting Indian-style, but an upright fetal position as I quietly uttered, “I got busted smoking pot at a Dead show.”
“And that’s it.”
The mood in the room suddenly changed. They broke out in laughter. They shook my hand. They felt bad for me being in the cell with them. They were all real criminals and knew I had no business in that cell with them. It was very comforting in a weird surreal way. Mr. “I Fired a Gun” even paid a janitor twenty-five cents to give a cigarette to me. It was menthol and I hate menthols, but that was the best damn cigarette I ever had in my life.
After an hour or so more of talking and laughing we all decided to go to sleep. The only spot left for me to lie down was next to the toilet, between the seat and the wall. It was a very unsettling place to lie down, but there really were no other options left. I kept reminding myself that my friends were in the lobby and it would all be over any second.
A few hours later, the solid metal door opened and my name called. I slowly dislodged myself from between the toilet and the wall and said “here” as if I was answering roll call in school. The officer told me I was going home. I was stunned. Was this a trick? Were they pissed that my cellmates liked me instead of killed me? Oh yea, my friends: my bail was finally paid.
I reached the lobby after picking up my possessions to very surprised friends. It seems they had not paid any bail as of yet. They had been waiting eight hours for me to be “processed” so they could pay they bail. I was simply being released. The court date was set for three days and I was on my own until then.
I would lie if I said the thought of running never crossed my mind. It crisscrossed my mind to be honest, but I could not do it. Instead, I did the harder thing to do- I called my parents for the cliché “hello mom, I’m in jail” phone call.
At first, my mom yelled. Then she decided to yell a little more for a change of pace. After talking to my step-dad, she called me back at the payphone laughing for some odd reason. She agreed to pay for a motel for the next three days and loan us money to buy some court clothes. Any further yelling would wait until I was safely back in Florida. Until then I had enough stress I guess.
That first night in the motel, we watched the news. I learned about the massive drug bust at the Dead show the previous day. I was part of 245 people busted for possession of drugs on a single day, which appears to have been a record at the time.
The next story on the news was about the Jamaican drug gangs trying to move into Charlotte’s underworld and the war they were having with the local gangs. They talked about the top hit man for the Jamaican cartel being in custody and there on my television was Mr. “I Fired a Gun.”
I jumped up in the bed pointing and screaming to my friends that I was a cell with that guy! That guy was really cool! He bought me a cigarette! He never told me he fired that gun at someone; an important detail I would tend to think, but a nice guy just the same.
We showed up for court three days later with our bargain Target wardrobes and paperwork in hand. It looked like about 130 people were in the lobby outside the courtroom. It was eerie being in a room filled with 130 people and complete and total silence.
The bailiff came out into the lobby, collected all 130 documents, and returned into the courtroom. My friend who made bail and I handed ours to him as I smiled, trying to be friendly as best I could. He never said a word to any of us and looked at very few of us. I had no idea what was going on. No movie had ever prepared me for anything like this.
After ten minutes, the bailiff came back out into the lobby and began to read out names from the documents he collected. As we heard our names, we were to step forward and collect our document. Nothing more explained to us at the time.
My name was the first out of my little circle of nervous strangers to be called. I slowly walked up, took my pink document in my trembling hand, and noticed that it now had the most magical word stamped across where the charge was. It simply said, “Dismissed.”