The day passed without argument or contradiction.
I still don’t have a phone or lap top as the police are holding both as evidence. It is amazing, however, that I can do without.
Before I tell you more about the last three months I think I should warn you that leaving an anonymous comment on this site is almost impossible to do, as a certain Chris Lewis from Sydney Australia found to his chagrin yesterday.
Chris hoped to leave a nasty message and get away with it. Well, Chris, not only must you have a valid email address to create a WordPress account but every comment left on this blog has your email and your IP address attached to it.
The IP address will lead, in most cases, directly to you.
Chris Lewis is a good friend of the man I allegedly extorted and contacting me on his behalf by email was a foolish and potentially case destroying decision. I passed his email and details onto the relevant authorities.
Again, let me warn any of you who think you can get away with leaving anonymous notes on WordPress…you can’t.
Jason just made hot coffee and brought it to my room. The children are slowly getting dressed, ready for school, they file into see me before they head off and kiss me goodbye. Max is smoking in the attic. I will never again take these moments for granted.
Hot coffee, what a treat. No hot coffee in jail. No hot food in jail. I lived on jelly and peanut butter sandwiches, cookies and fruit. My shit turned the colour of peanut butter and about the same consistency.
Do you want to know more? I want to tell you. I think you should know.
We are woken, woken by the booming deputy on the loudspeaker. The fluorescent lights ignited, flickering across the dorm. She/he bellows, “Chow, get ready for chow!” Unless it is a Monday or Wednesday morning in which case she/he booms “Clothing exchange!”, meaning of course that we had the opportunity to exchange our uniform, sheets and towels.
We stand in a sad crocodile, scarcely awake, holding up for inspection what we need to exchange to the ruddy-faced, alcoholic looking deputy. Impatient, rude and ugly…a Max Beckmann caricature, he amused me with his slick backed hair, the broken veins in his cheeks. His miserable job scoffed at by the younger deputies who held him in obvious contempt. A career in jail changing underpants.
His teeth stand away from his lips as he barks at me. Barking at me like a rabid dog. “Is that a whole sheet?”
I stand in line. My private thoughts do not show on my poker face.
I do as I am told. Like a good jew waiting to be gassed.
Then, after he takes his laundry circus else where we lay on our beds waiting for chow, waiting for the trustees to arrive with cereal, milk, eggs and fruit.
We guard the door, peering through the window into the hall. Moments before the police arrive we are warned to, “Put on your blues and get on your racks.” Then, one word, “Walking!” they holler. As the door opens one of us screams, “They’re in the house!” We lay silently on our bunks.
“Close your eyes, face down!” they feed all 90 of us in less than one minute..throwing our breakfast at our rack (bunk). Beeman stands overseeing the feed, I look at him cautiously, he’s wearing a tie, he has cut his hair. He’s shorter than his colleagues. I lay on my bunk wondering if he got laid last night. Who he fucked, his uniform in a heap on some boys bedroom floor.
After the breakfast is delivered the door is slammed shut and the dorm returns to normal life.
Then the bartering begins. Inmates roam the dorm like 18th Century market traders calling out “Cookies for juice!” or “Cereal for eggs!” The men with HIV get special diets, rich in protein. Their food is quickly snapped up by those who know. Then, it’s time for school. “Line it up!”
On the wide corridors beyond the dorm we follow prescribed paths. Keeping an eye on the deputies. “Tuck your shirt in!” They bawl. When they learned that I was English the Mexican officers would talk animatedly about Premiere League Football. You know, don’t you, that I know jack about football?
Breakfast at 6am, lunch at 10am, dinner at 4pm. Snacking on overpriced vending machine food in between. A ramen noodle costing 20 cents on the streets costs an inmate $1.30. The store, run by a Kansas City based company called Keefe gouges those who can least afford it.
Hunger determines everything in jail. Men are hungry. Very hungry.
It’s easy to be a Jail House millionaire, it costs about $135 a week. For that a huge bag of store arrives and those who do not have target those who do. The younger, attractive boys lay down with the elderly.
I buy fish from the commissary, packets of sardines in hot chile sauce. I buy fish because it is unlikely to be stolen. To buy is to be judged. A large bag of store is complimented, a small bag attracts derision. I am quizzed by those I least expect about how much money I spent on any particular Monday. When the surly commissary man hands over my purchase I scurry back to my bunk.
Yet, to buy too much somehow ties one to the jail, makes one vulnerable. Attracts the wrong sort of friends. If the deputies decide to target the dorm and tear it up, they steal your store, confiscate your vending cards.
When I first arrived I bought the soup, the ramen noodles. I hated the bloody ramen noodles. They were only good for trading.
One can buy just about anything with a packet of ramen noodle in Men’s County Jail. I saw a beautiful boy with clown tattoos on his face sell his ass to an HIV+ older man for a packet of noodles. Boys like him are called commissary babies. They didn’t wear condoms, fucking raw costs more, even though condoms are distributed in the dorm once a week.
On Monday nights, the night Keefe deliver the store, the men gorge themselves on Chocolate and soda. Those who have nothing wander the dorm like Bombay beggars asking for shots of coffee, food, selling razors from the ‘indigent kits’ that are delivered to the poor on credit from the state of California.
After second count at around 9pm the lights are dimmed, never switched off entirely. We stand in the half-light, men stand in small groups preparing their night-time spread as the tranny’s dance. Noodles are softened in luke warm water, packets of chicken and chips are crushed and reconstituted. Pickles are diced, spam chopped, cheese grated on home-made graters.
We sit eating the spread, enjoying the freedom. “Quiet time!” they call after midnight. “Quiet time!” Waiting for 3am count and bed time. I pass out long before.
We sleep during the day, when we can, between classes and AA and church and hospital visits, phone calls to loved ones, attorney room passes and the ubiquitous pill call.
Pill call, four times a day the sweet Irish lady arrives with her cart…the men with HIV stand and wait, scoffing down their expensive HIV drugs. It costs a great deal of money to keep a gay man in the jail. $500 a day without transportation and medication. Double with both.
It cost the Californian tax payer $45,000 to keep me in jail.
During my time in Dorm 5200 I read the entire works of Dickens (Steve Harris and I promised we would do that when we retired) and Voltaire, (I LOVE VOLTAIRE). I read Dominick Dunne‘s fascinating collection of essays Fatal Charms and The Mansions of Limbo…heartened that he started writing seriously at 53 years old but became quickly bored by his snobbery and petty resentments. I read what ever I could. I read bad novels and good novels. I read Lauren Bacall’s whining auto biography. I hadn’t read so much in years. I became a voracious reader, bereft when I finished anything, especially if I had nothing lined up to read next.
Now I need to write.
Now I am home and before I forget the precise flavour of the jail I need to write it all down.
I still wake at dawn although my face is no longer scarred by doing so. I still have one foot in the jail. Thinking about those men. My friends.
Tomorrow I will describe the arrest, the vain judiciary and the whippet DA. All of who seem, in retrospect, like characters from a restoration comedy.