I missed the damn bus! I had thought I had more than enough time to get to the station before it left, but I had been wrong. I was in a panic when I got to the station and realized that I had missed it by about 20 minutes. I had to plead with the clerk at the bus station to make an exception and get me another ticket. He eventually did, but made sure that the replacement ticket was the most restrictive kind there was.
Then they had kicked me out of the station just after 10:00; seems they close-up after the last bus leaves on the weekends.
The ticket she gave me was for the last bus out tomorrow night. It would leave at 9:30 pm and if I missed it that would be the last chance I had to get back to him. I had no way to get back to the life I had left behind. The only ID that I had showed that I was Jeremy Taylor and there wasn’t any way that I would be able to convince anyone that I really was someone else. The apartment and the office that had been left behind were no longer mine to access.
I would be on the street all night and all day tomorrow. I had no money, no food, and nowhere to go. I hadn’t had a chance to wash up decently or shower for almost three days and I smelled pretty ripe. My right eye was swollen and fully black and blue from the asshole who smacked me in the bathroom a few days ago. The clothes that had started out dirty were now filthy. I had never been so utterly helpless before and my only hope was getting back to him on that bus tomorrow night.
I had been wandering without paying much attention to where I was going when I heard the quick squawk of a police siren. I looked over my shoulder to see a squad car pulling to the curb with its lights flashing. The cop on the passenger side had rolled down his window and told me to “hold it.”
Oh shit! This was not going to be good and my heart started to race. I thought about trying to run but realized that I really hadn’t done anything to be worried about. Besides, the cop was already a few feet away and running would only make whatever was going to happen even worse.
Before I realized what was going on he had me bending over the trunk of the squad car with my legs spread. His partner was standing a few feet behind with his hand on his gun. I was being patted down and they were asking me rapid fire questions about what I was doing, where I was going, and why I was in this neighborhood. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had wandered into an area of the city where drug trafficking was the major industry. They assumed that I was either a user or a dealer. The way I looked only helped to reinforce that assumption.
The cop found nothing on me – I had nothing for them to find, including any money. He dumped out the knapsack on the trunk next to me to, again, find almost nothing. He pulled the driver’s license out of the side pocket of the knapsack and stared at it for what seemed like an hour. As he looked at it, I tried to remember the details on it. I was definitely screwed if he thought it was fake or stolen, because I couldn’t remember the address or birth date on it. All I knew for sure was Jeremy’s name and the state he lived in. A state that was almost 300 miles away!
“Jeremy, you’re a long way from home, aren’t you?” He asked as he handed the license to his partner to run through their computer and pulled my hands behind me and cuffed me. “Just a precaution – for my safety and theirs,” he said as he sat me on the curb.
He again rattled off a dozen questions and I tried to explain that I was just trying to get out of town, missed the last bus, had another ticket for tomorrow, had no money, and was lost. I couldn’t tell if he had even heard me, or if he had, if he cared or believed me. I told him to look at the bus ticket he had taken from the knapsack, it proved that I was telling the truth.
As I was babbling on I kept thinking that I wasn’t telling the truth. At least not when it came to who I was. I kept hoping that Jeremy didn’t have some long ass record or a warrant or something. I was just trying to come up with a plausible way to tell them that I wasn’t Jeremy Taylor, when his partner got out of the car and walked back to us.
“Our friend here has been in the city for a while. Three weeks ago he was given a warning by Metro. Seems he was engaging in some lewd behavior with another gentleman in an alley not too far from the Greyhound Station. You out looking for some trick to shake down, son?”
Fuck! Bad to worse in a heartbeat. My mind was racing but I was wondering if it was actually Jeremy that was caught or one of the other guys from the cells? Hell, the guy who had my ID might have been picked up for something else. Even if I tried to explain it all to them, they wouldn’t believe a damn word. Not only did I look the part, but apparently I really was a street hustler.
I again explained that I was just trying to leave town. Told them to look at the bus ticket. Reminded them that I had no money. That was a dumb ass thing to remind them of – of course I would be out looking to blow somebody if I could make a few bucks. I explained that I didn’t know anybody here (not too far from the truth.)
After awhile it became apparent that it didn’t matter what I said. To them it was all bullshit. Yes, I had a bus ticket and was probably going to leave tomorrow. But it was obvious to them that I was out to make a few bucks tonight. I was damned near in tears when the pushed me into the back seat of the squad and slammed to door.
The ride to the police station was quick. The cops had made a bunch of raunchy queer jokes on the way and were pretty rough when they pulled me out of the car. I was so scared I hardly noticed. The booking area of the station was nothing short of chaos. There were dozens of people all trying to talk louder than the next guy. A big guy was fighting with a handful of cops and he had the look of someone that didn’t want to go back to jail. Several other guys that must have been arrested with him started to struggle, but the cops swarmed them and had them under control pretty quickly. There was a lot of tension in the room – to say the least. None of it was helped by a drunk throwing up on the floor. The place smelled like urine and sweat and the cops had lost all patience.
It was almost an hour before I finally made it to the Sergeant’s desk. He was swamped in paperwork, there was some kind of gang battle going on and the cops were stretched too thin. He reviewed the brief paperwork the cops had prepared, pulled up Jeremy’s/my information on the computer, and asked me to explain why I was there. I ran through the story again. Missed the bus, had a ticket for tomorrow, had no money, got lost, apologized for being an idiot, and tried to make him feel sorry for me. Fat chance! He hadn’t heard a word that I said as he kept watching the room for trouble.
“Look, I don’t give a shit about what you were doing out there or why. Mandate from the powers that be is to clean up the city and keep creeps like you from fucking each other in the alleys for a few bucks. Short and sweet – you’re staying with us tonight and leaving on that damned bus tomorrow. I will personally make sure that an officer gets you to that station and on that bus. You leave and I have one less headache to deal with. I am shorthanded and got no time to process you – you are the least of my fucking worries tonight. I’m having my guys put you in a cell until tomorrow afternoon. You leave, I got no paperwork to push, you get no black marks. Work for you?”
Although I had no desire to spend time in a jail cell with who knows who, what choice did I have? I was relieved that he actually was letting me off without looking to press charges of some kind. A burly cop grabbed my arm and hauled me back towards the cells. “You might be only a guest, so to speak, but procedures are procedures,” he said when we got to what looked like a booking area. “Strip, all the way. Put your clothes and personal items in the bag on that table. Then turn and face the wall. We get to play a little hide and seek, if you know what I mean. But, then again, you’re probably are used to that!”
He took his damn sweet time with the cavity search. He had is finger so far up my ass he was tickling my prostate. I had truly reached the bottom and couldn’t even find the emotion to be humiliated. He threw a green, city jail jumpsuit at me (no underwear, some slip on shoes and snapped an ID bracelet on my wrist when I was dressed (reminded me of the kind they use in hospitals). He then had me sign off on the form for my personal belongings, handcuffed me and led me down the hallway to the cells. It occurred to me that it wasn’t all that different from the cells in the basement at his house.
We stopped outside a solid steel door. It had only a small window in it and it seemed to be a single cell, rather than the drunk-tank that I had been picturing. He unlocked the door pushed me in and removed the cuffs. I almost screamed when he slammed the door behind me. The cell couldn’t have been more than four feet wide. There was just enough space for the combination sink/toilet and the concrete shelf that was the bed. The mattress was covered in rubber and there was no pillow or blanket. Blank beige walls, concrete floor, stainless steel sink/toilet, and an institutional green rubber mattress – my home for the next few hours. I laid down and tried to get some rest. I was exhausted and, although scared as hell, dozed off quickly.
I was startled awake sometime later by loud shouting and what sounded like fighting. I tried to see what was going on in the hallway but was too short to see through the only window high in the door. The shouting increased and whatever was going on seemed to be happening right outside my cell. Several times someone slammed into the cell door and I was terrified by what might happen. The fighting moved off down the hall, and I tried to make out what exactly was going on. My best guess was that several prisoners had tried to overpower one (or more) of the guards and it took quite awhile for the other cops to get everything sorted out and settled back down. I wondered if it was the same group of guys that were fighting the cops when I was brought in.
I tried to sleep some more but there was never much of a lull in the hallway. Cell doors slamming and people arguing and yelling. I had no idea what time it was. There was no clock and no window. The sickly yellow light from the fluorescents in the cell never varied. I about jumped out of my skin when the cell door opened and a cop shoved a tray with breakfast on it into the cell. He just about threw it on the floor before slamming the door shut behind him. I ate greedily and was glad to have something to do for a few minutes other than look at the beige walls. When I was done I sat back on the “bed” and waited some more. I dozed off and on. It seemed quieter in the hallway now.
I was still asleep when the door opened again. I was barely able to open my eyes before it was closed again. I looked on the floor and saw that the breakfast tray had now been replaced with lunch. So it must have been somewhere around noon time. A few more hours and I would be out of here and on a bus back to him. I ate slower this time but was still glad for the food. I set the tray aside and stared at the walls and listened to the activity in the hall.
This time when the cell door opened the cop walked in. He took the tray and set it outside the cell and tossed me another jump suit. This one was orange and he told me to strip and put it on. I hesitated for a moment but his shout made me do as I was told. I didn’t even think about the fact that I was stark naked in front of him while I changed. I tried to ask him when they would take me to the bus station, but he cut me off and laughed at me as he grabbed the other jumpsuit and slammed the door. Now I was not only confused but scared. Did something change while I was in here, had they decide to file charges against me, was there some other delay. There had been so much going on last night, maybe they just needed some time to sort it all out?
I was just about to sit back down on the bed when I noticed the imprinting on the left leg of the jumpsuit. “County Jail” was written in large black letters down the leg. I quickly pulled it off and looked at the back of the suit. “Prisoner” and “County Jail” were both bold on the back. I had thought the new jumpsuit was just a clean replacement for the other one, but why “County Jail?” My first thought was that they had run out of the ones for the city jail but that was quickly replaced by the fear that something else was going on. I was hoping against hope that I wasn’t being sent to their county lockup. That meant no chance of catching the bus tonight and some serious crap heading my way.
Hours passed and I came to realize that I wasn’t going to be let out in time. I tried to get someone’s attention by yelling and pounding on the door, but no one responded. Shit. Apparently the sergeant had changed his mind and processed my paperwork after all. I had no idea what they would charge me with. Indecent exposure came to mind, but did that mean jail time? When they picked me up last night I hadn’t been doing anything at all but wandering around. Vagrancy, maybe. But would that result in jail time, too? I had no idea what was going on or what was going to happen to me. I would think that some sort of hearing would need to take place before anything really was decided; but I don’t think the cop shows on TV are too realistic about these things.
I was lost in hopeless thought when the door opened again. A burly cop walked in, no he was a sheriff’s deputy by the insignia on his uniform, and told me to get up, turn around, and place my hands on my head. I tried to ask him questions but he just told me to shut up. Another cop came in and they locked a belly chain around my waist that was connected to leg irons and had handcuffs attached on either side. It didn’t take them long to get everything locked in place and start me shuffling down the hallway. When we got to the intake area the cop that had taken me to the cells in the first place walked up to me with a weird grin on his face and handed me an envelope and a bag – which, supposedly, had my personal belongings in it. “Have fun at county buddy,” he said with a chuckle and walked away.
Damn. Damn. Damn. My heart just dropped out of my chest as that sank in. I wasn’t going anywhere near the bus station and fear swelled up inside me as the idea sunk in that I was going to a prison. How long before I was able to get a hearing. What the hell was going to happen to me while I was there. I tried to ask the cops and deputies around me questions, but none of them would answer and most just told me to shut up. Before long there were about a dozen other guys all shackled the same way waiting around me. I recognized some of them as the guys who were fighting with the cops when I first came in last night. I assumed that they were also the ones who had been fighting with them again later in the hallway. Most of them stared at me like I was a bug. I noticed that most of them had hand-drawn tats on their arms and hands and what looked like gang symbols. None of this was good.
Before long the deputies were marching us out to a transport bus. We were pushed into seats that were separated from the driver by a cage and a short chain was locked to the waist chain. Luckily, there were so few of us that I didn’t end up next to one of the other guys. A brief reprieve, I was thinking. The bus lurched out of the city jail’s parking lot and headed toward the county jail. It was only a few blocks away at the edge of downtown and it looked like a fortress to me. Chain link gates slid shut behind the bus and I couldn’t help but notice the razor wire topping all the fencing.
We were shuffled off the bus and into an intake area. We were separated and I was made to wait for quite a while as they took the other guys in one by one. Finally they came for me. Strip, cavity search, and then into a holding room where they locked my handcuffs to a steel ring in the middle of a metal table. And I waited. It was uncomfortable as hell – I was too short to find any way to sit comfortably with the short length of chain at my wrists. They had placed the file and the bag with my personal stuff on the other side of the table. It was then that I finally noticed the label on the bag. The name on the bag and the file were not mine – or Jeremy’s, I should say. But, I was Jeremy, wasn’t I?
Carl Houseman. That was the name. They had given me the wrong stuff. How the hell did that happen and how was I going to get that straightened out? Maybe that explained the whole thing. They thought I was someone else and had brought me here by mistake. Did that mean that he was let go and was out on the street with my driver’s license? I remembered the ID bracelet and spun it around so I could see the information on it. I hadn’t even glanced at it the whole time I was in the other cell! All that time and I never even thought about it. It would prove that I was Jeremy and this mess would be cleared up. But, again, I was wrong. The cop had put the wrong bracelet on – Carl Houseman’s name stared back at me when I read it. How the hell could I have been so stupid as to not look at it. I was so damned scared and nervous that I hadn’t even thought about it at the time. Now I was totally screwed.
A deputy finally came in and sat opposite me at the table. He pulled open the file and scanned the contents quickly. I noticed that there was a picture attached to the paperwork, but couldn’t get a good look at it. He shoved the bag off onto the floor and slid closer to me. “Carl Houseman. Looks like we have you in for an 24-month stint. You should have stayed out of trouble while you were out. I see your last time here was for only three months and out. Free and clear for you, but not too bright are you?”
I tried to answer, but he just shut me up. I tried again to explain that there was a mistake and I wasn’t Carl Houseman, that there had been a mix-up, and the desk sergeant at the city jail would be able to clear it all up. Look at the picture in the file – it isn’t me. He laughed cruelly for a minute. “That’s a good one. Like I’ve never heard it before. Everybody in here is here by mistake. No one is guilty. Gotta come up with something better than that. At least try to be original.”
He got up and unlocked the cuffs for a moment before turning me around and cuffing me behind my back. “I’d go over the rules, but sine you have been here before you already know the drill. Make it easy on you and me and do what the fuck you are told and no lipping off.” He pulled me out of the room and down the hall towards a cell block area. Several sets of locking doors before he handed me off to another deputy. “He’s here by mistake,” he said as he walked away.
“Another one?” the other guard chuckled. I was surprised as the look on his face turned dark and he yanked me hard into the cell area. “Dumb fuck.” he said as he manhandled me forward. “Do I look familiar to you?” He asked. “I should, my brother’s a cop over at city. He’s the one that processed you for intake. You didn’t even notice that he put another ID on you, did you? He can spot ’em from a mile away. Too scared or too stupid to even look or question.”
He kept dragging me along. I couldn’t think straight. This was all on purpose? Why? I finally opened my mouth to ask, but he just smacked me and told me to shut up. He had hit me square on my swollen eye and it hurt like hell.
“You don’t talk or ask questions. Ever.” He said. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. No one here will believe a word that your smart ass mouth says. Some little fucked up faggot who gets busted for sucking some stranger in an alley is prime meat around here. You’ll have lots of friends, if you know what I mean.”
We stopped before a cell door. Just like the one on the city jail. I was scared as hell wondering who I would be locked in with. He slammed me hard against the block wall next to the door and held me there. “This is how it goes, Carl.” He emphasized the name. “We’ve got a little side business going on here. And, no, it isn’t what you might be thinking – although there will be some of that, too. Since you made it clear when the guys arrested you that you were lost here and just were trying to get out of the city, we assumed that no one here knows you or will ever come looking for you. We have quite the little network for this little business and everybody gets a cut.”
“We look for losers like you. You see the bureaucrats that run the numbers could give a shit who is in what cell around here. The bosses look to us little guys to deal with the day to day down here. All they care about is that nobody gets out. If 125 guys were sentenced there better be 125 guys here in the block.” He pushed me harder into the wall and whispered hoarsely into my ear. “Carl Houseman made a big score before he got picked up for some bullshit drug deal. The judge sentences him to 2 years here. But, and this is the good part, Carl has a shitload of money. Me and my business partners take a cut and Carl walks out the front door with some loser’s ID. Meanwhile, we get a body to occupy Carl’s space. 125 guys all present and accounted for. Get it?”
I grunted, but he just slapped the back of my head. “I’m telling you this, Carl, because nobody around here is ever going to even listen to you long enough for you to get them to believe you on this arrangement. I’m also telling you, Carl, so you have something to think about as you rot inside here.”
He held me tightly as he unlocked the cell door and pulled me in. Same damn cell as the city jail. He forced me to my knees in front of him. “There’s always somebody coming in here with enough cash to make a deal. You’d be surprised how much some of these guys get away with. My partners and I have a good thing going and we make a nice side income. Beats a cop’s salary. And there’s always guys like you, Carl. Losers who will never be missed. You belong in here anyway, so let’s just say that we’re dong society a favor. One bad guy for another. Who the hell really cares?”
He started backing out of the cell. “You’re lucky, though. You do get to spend the next 2 years here in isolation. Paperwork says that Carl isn’t fit for the general population. Nice beige walls to stare at for 23 1/2 hours a day. Three squares. No blanket or pillow, though. Paperwork says it’s a risk to you.”
“Maybe we’ll send a visitor in from time to time to keep you company, huh? We can make a buck or two off of you. The guys like little blonde hustlers and pay a premium for the service.” He laughed. “By the way … in two years I’m sure there will be another gangbanger with enough cash to buy his way out of here. Or should I say to buy you, Carl?”
“Who knows who you will be then?” He slammed the door.
The echo rang through the cell crashing into my mind. I was, no, I had been Jeremy for a little while. I would be Carl for a lot longer. Who would I be next … and would I even know enough to care?
Metalbond would like to thank Marknorth for this story.