Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dead Man Walking

It was about 6:30 p.m. that Saturday and I had been officially booked into the Eastland County Jail for some unknown crime that involved mishandled paperwork. That’s all I knew as I sat there in that hot, 12’x12’ holding tank with two other people. It was then that I decided to stop crying. I had been a weeping train wreck of rattled nerves for over 3 hours and I was tired.

The one girl in the tank with me looked so young. She couldn’t have been over 20 years old. She was skinny and stringy and frail looking and she stared straight down at the ground. The other person in there was a middle-aged man with a wife beater t-shirt on who was sprawled out on the floor, sound asleep – probably passed out as I smelled a whiff of beer every now and then. I was NOT in the mood to be chit chatty, and neither was the girl, so we sort of gave each other a cursory nod and went back to staring and contemplating the injustice of it all.

There was no clock in the cell, so it was hard to tell what time it was. Time felt like it was creeping by, or possibly just standing still, because time would do that to me. I felt like the whole world was against me at that point, so why would time be any different? It wasn’t like I could engross myself in a good book or magazine. I just had to sit on that stainless steel bench, lean against that pea-green cement wall, look at the stainless steel toilet in the corner, and tell myself that I could do this. I could endure anything for one night.

At some point the door swung open and an inmate wearing the orange jumpsuit came in pushing a cart. It was dinner. Without making eye contact with any of us, he put three plastic trays and 3 plastic cups on the bench and left. I have no idea what was on that plastic tray because eating was the last thing on my mind. I was, however, incredibly thirsty. From all of the heat and crying, I had managed to dehydrate, but I just couldn’t reach for one of those plastic cups. I just couldn’t do it.

So I sat.

At some point in the night, things started hopping at the Eastland County Jail. It was Saturday night and apparently a lot of nothing good was going on because people were being thrown into the holding tank right and left. Mostly men, but certainly some women, too. And almost all of them looked, smelled, and/or sounded drunk or stoned. Because the tank was so small, we all had to sit side by side on the metal bench against the wall. Except for the guy who was still asleep on the floor.

I invoked the power of my invisibility shield and just sat there as still and quietly as I could, hoping not to be noticed, while others were talking, and in the case of some, ranting and raving. I was now in One Flew Over the Coo-Coo’s Nest.

That time in the holding tank ranks right up there as the worst moment in my life. I was trapped in a hot, stinking cell for an unknown crime with shit-faced people who were yelling that “Joe Bob had better watch his back” and hard, leathery looking people jonesing for a cigarette and others who were sitting quietly like me, with murderous looks of rage in their eyes. Not good.

At some point, the door swung open and a deputy I hadn’t seen before called out my name. It startled me to hear it. I got up and walked by everyone and stepped out of the holding cell. The fresh air felt so good. I glanced at the clock on the wall over one of the desks and it was midnight.

The deputy was a nice enough guy, called me “Miss Holliday”, and kept apologizing that I was in this situation. “I’m so sorry that we didn’t get you processed before 5:00. I’m so sorry that you have to stay here tonight. I’m so sorry that there was some paperwork fiasco that got you here in the first place. I’m so sorry…I’m so sorry.” You and me both, Mr. Deputy, you and me both.

Then he laid it on me that he had just received a call from “dispatch” that a group of “rowdies” had been arrested and were on their way over. The holding tank was too full to accommodate this new batch of societal menaces, so he was going to have to put me in a cell. So I could be spared from the sardine can holding pen. All I could process was that I was going into a jail cell. I’d sunk to an even lower low.

He then opened a very large closet and took out an old, flat, pad, about 6’ long and an inch thick. It was my “mattress”. He rolled it up and stuck it under my arm, and then he gave me a plastic cup. All prisoners get a mattress and a plastic cup when they are put into a cell.

Death row was down a hallway off of the central booking station, and it was one of the creepiest, longest walks of my life, because, OF COURSE, my cell was the very last one. There I was, sweaty and gross in my bad shorts, bad shirt, bad hair, puffed up swollen face, holding my bed roll and my cup, following the deputy down a dank corridor with cell doors on each side. I could see my cell door open at the very end of the hall…open, just waiting for me.

This facility didn’t have the bar “gates” that we think of a jail cell having, where you can see the inmates inside. These were the big, metal doors with only a peep hole at eye level and what looked like a mail slot at the bottom. I could hear some rustling around so I knew people were behind those doors, but you couldn’t see them. My contact lenses had such build up on them at this point from all the tears that it was like I was looking through wax paper, which made the whole scene even more bazaar.

We got to the end of the hallway and the deputy pointed that I was to go inside. He gave me a pity-filled look and said, “Just try and get some sleep, Miss Holliday. We’ll come get you in the morning when the judge arrives.”

So I walked in, and that big door slammed behind me. I could hear his steps walking away and all of a sudden I felt so alone.

Imagine if you will… the cell was so small, about 8’ x 6’ and the walls were pea-green painted cinderblocks. Jutting out from the wall was a stainless steel plank – the “bed”. Next to the bed was an old, rusty “sink” with only a cold water knob and next to that was the old, dented stainless steel toilet. If I stood in the middle of the room, I could spread my arms out and almost be touching both sides of the room. Overhead was a yellowish fluorescent light that was humming loudly.

I set my “mattress” on the steel plank and sat down. The mattress grossed me out because I kept thinking about how many people, in various states of grossness, had laid on it before me, so I just sat upright, not wanting to put my head down on it.

As I was sitting there, getting a little bit weepy again, with a loud “pop” sound, the light overhead shut off. That startled me. Lights out on cell block E. I sat there wondering how this night could get any worst.

I shouldn’t have wondered…OF COURSE it could get worse…because every known force in the Universe was conspiring against me.

(I promise, Dear Readers, that this long, drawn-out, tragic tale of whoa will soon come to an end. But not until next week as I will be out of commission for a few days!)

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