Posts Tagged ‘Decatur’

When you first get to Dekalb County Jail, after being cuffed, taken for a ride, patted down, and photographed, you have two tendencies.  This is when you are actually put in a cell.  The first is to try not to touch anything.  You notice before anything else the pool of urine around the toilet in the corner of the cell, and you see that it’s impossible to tell where the wet floor ends and the dry floor begins.  You also see the men, mostly older and maybe, you think, more accustomed to such realities, but some also younger, lying down near the toilet and around the toilet – right in the puddles of piss.  You think about how they’ve probably been so beaten down by the world that what’s smelling like piss compared to some of the other things they’ve seen and done.  You see them get up and lay down on the same benches you were just thinking of sitting on. Now you’re wondering about those benches, so sometimes you sit on the edge of the bench, or stand near the cell door.  Anything but the floor.

Your other tendency when you first get to jail is to act a certain way, exude a certain toughness.  You’ve heard the stories, seen the jail-focused reality TV shows, and you think you know there are some hard screws behind bars – who else would be back here, right?  So you try to be quiet, or maybe put on a serious face, like you, too, are bad and anyone who messes with you is surely asking for it.  You know you just don’t want any trouble, whatever that may look like, so you try both to stay out of every man’s way while also not appearing meek and able to be taken advantage of.

Time passes. Hours, you don’t know how many – there’s no clock. You wonder when the hell you’re going to get your ‘one phone call’, not to mention get finger-printed and processed.  You start to get actually frustrated, instead of just pretending to be.  But the funny thing is, all the posturing tired the muscles in your face, and so now you’re frustrated but you just look very, very tired.  You’re no longer thinking about how to hold your face.  In just few hours you find yourself much more relaxed on that bench you didn’t want to sit on before.  You even cross over the moat of urine and make it to the toilet to take a piss – because you couldn’t hold it any longer.  You’re still not comfortable, but your outer-world pretensions are quickly dissolving in a cell of brute necessities.

And so maybe you hold your face up, signaling that you’re at least open to a conversation or two.  There’s one guy who’s been chatting away since you got in there.  He’s telling everyone how they’re their own corporation, and that their legal name is separate from who they really are as a person. He tells them that you can ‘claim sovereignty’ over themselves, and that they need not be subjected to the laws of the United States.  You let someone else argue with him, and laugh at the names they call each other.  There seems to be a different kind of knowledge that circulates in here than in the university halls.  The conversations you have, the camaraderie you find constitute the only pleasant moments of your time inside.  You still haven’t gotten your phone call, but now you’re just thinking about food – not the junk you know they’ll serve you, but the food you plan on eating once you get out.  Even though you’ve never been in jail before, you have an idea or two from the conditions of the cell what the food must be like.  But that just makes your dreaming of outside food that much more alluring.  Mmm, it’s going to be so good.  You think a lot about food over the rest of your time inside.

The first time you’re in, you have no idea about the process.  You’re surprised when they put a needle in your forearm to test you for Tuberculosis.  You wonder how many times they’re going to call you out of the cell to feel you up and down.  Unlike adjusting to the in-cell conditions, the groping never gets easier.  They give you a psychological test asking you if you hear voices in your head, or see people who aren’t there.  You remember a line from a jailed political prisoner regarding this question, something like “They asked me if I saw people who weren’t there.  My problem wasn’t this… it was seeing too much the people who are there.”

They move you from one cell to another to another.  And another and another. They put handcuffs on you, take them off. You’re tired, but you’re always being moved around so you can’t sleep. Then comes the big surprise.  They bring you and several of the men you’ve just been sharing a small space with to a larger room.  They tell you all to sit on the stairs. You’re used to waiting by this point, and instead of worrying what you’re waiting for, maybe another pat-down, you’re still thinking about that food.  Then they call 3 of you at a time, yelling and hurling verbal insults at you along the way. Whatever, you’re still much too tired to try to figure out what’s going on. But for some reason you glance to your right – ah shit! You see the 3 men who were just called over butt-naked, bending over to pick up and put back on their clothes. Your heart literally drops into your stomach.  Strip-search time.

You didn’t expect this, and you immediately become nervous. Quickly you tell yourself you have to try to mentally prepare. But how do you steel yourself against having the authority-man who just cuffed and transported you, who just yelled at you and treated you as less than dirt, now order you to take off your clothes? And you have to use your own hands to assist in exposing all of your parts to him?? You don’t know how you’ll preserve your mind, but you try whatever you can.  Thinking of something nice.  Thinking of something more terrible than this, something others have endured. You want to run, or scream, or fight – but you can’t. Standing there for naked for 30 seconds feels like an hour. Turning around and squatting and being made to use your hands to spread your butt just about breaks you. You’re no longer chatty with the other men you had just met.  You’re ashamed.  You’re upset.  And you’re very, very angry.

After this episode, you’re left in the big cell.  The waiting game continues.  But now it starts to gets to you.  You wonder what time it is, since you have no way of knowing.  You wonder what you’d be doing if you weren’t stuck in here.  You wonder who’s helping to get you out, who’s going to be there to give you a hug when you’re released, who’s going to drive you to get that food you’ve been thinking about.  You wonder.

The waiting game grinds on you. And now you’re really cold.  A t-shirt isn’t enough in this concrete room. You tuck your arms into your sleeves. You’re sprawled out on the floor, leaning on one shoulder until it hurts too much, then rolling over and leaning on the other.  Half-awake, half-shivering, half-breathing, half-you.  When you first arrived you thought, anything but the floor.  But now your mind is mush and your body’s needs take over.  The floor is all there is.  Fatigue and pain is all you feel.

On the floor, now you look just like those men lying down near the toilet, those men snoring in a puddle of piss, those men you thought must’ve been in and out about 100 times, those men you thought might mess with you.  You almost let out a macabre half-laugh at it all. Feeling not yet broken, but like maybe you could be broken. Feeling your body, that you are a body, a body to be moved, searched, patted down, inspected, stored.  You just want to get out.  You just wish there were no prisons at all.  And this is just your first time.



(Experience is told from the perspective of a male inmate at Dekalb County Jail located in Decatur, Georgia)