Now that I have retired, I am remembering. Here is something I wrote years ago about an experience of encountering someone I knew from college that was booked into our jail.
The yellow post-it note was in my Patrol team box attached to our staffing binder. It was from a colleague named Marty who works in the Warrants Detail. So in so “is in the jail and she would like a visit.” I recognize the name on the sticky note instantly. Geez, what could she be in our jail for? I went to my Sergeant’s desk and searched our jail log on my computer. There was her name. In custody for 484(g) PC. Well, that was some measure of relief, but not much. At least it wasn’t a felony or something truly awful, but still…how did she know I was a cop? Grapevines, I suppose. We weren’t good friends, but our circles in college overlapped. She was on the crew team too. My head was spinning.
I decided to wait until late in the shift to make a walk to the jail. If I went there early in the shift, whatever I saw, heard or faced would consume me all night and morning. I knew myself well. I was reviewing reports a bit before 6am and it hit me. That yellow post-it. Visit the jail. At least the jail staff will be readying the arrestees for the jail run. The jail run was what we called the process of transporting prisoners in a van to the court in Oakland. My shift was almost over so I wouldn’t have much time. Guilt hits me and I wonder why I feel so resistant to see her. I am supposed to be compassionate. A certain something was holding me back. Intuitive voice I gather.
I walk to the sally port area of the jail. I slowly remove my gun, OC, ASP and flashlight and lock them in the metal drawer and slam it shut, pull the key and shove it in my back pocket. The sally port door into the BPD jail is a heavy metal thing and is painted an offensive orange color. (as opposed to pleasant orange). The door has a small window to peer inside the jail. I push the call button and wave at Lee in the control area. The door is activated by an ever-changing code and opens very, very slowly. I am small enough, so I always go in sideways, well before the door opens halfway. It’s become muscle memory and a habit I picked up years ago when I go into the jail without a prisoner. I smile at Lee as he looks at me intently, almost certainly checking to see if I have a prisoner with me. I walk straight forward, passing the pre-booking area to the left and wait for the interior jail door to open. The exterior door clicks shut behind me. I always get an eerie feeling being locked in. If there is some sort of emergency out on the street, it takes what seems like a lifetime to get out. That’s the point, I suppose.
I walk around the control room to the access door, intent on checking which cell she is in and she sees me before I see her. It was as if she has eyes in the back of her head. She is facing away from me and hardly turns. She waves over her shoulder and continues to eat what looks like pancakes in a plastic tray. I continue in to greet Jay and Lee and Henry Ann. That’s me, my way. To say my hellos and how are yous and show my appreciation for their work. Perhaps I am stalling too.
“I came to see the woman in 116.” I had glanced at the cell number on the door when she had waved. Henry Ann replies, “Yeah, she said she knew you.” “Yea. Ok. Is it all right if I go in?,” I ask. “Sure if you want to sit in there, I will click the door when you get there.” Henry Ann says. “Thanks” I reply.
I get to the door and see that she is sitting at the round metal table with four seats about it. Everything is smooth, no edges. Everything is bolted for safety. She is alone in one of the women’s “dorm” or community cells, which holds four women. There are metal beds with blue plastic mattresses rolled up on them. I don’t know if she had any company, but I do know she chose this option, as arrestees are asked if they want to be alone or with others. There are many more single cells in the jail.
“Hey Mary,” she says, still picking at the pancakes in a tray. I see that they are drowned in syrup and her paper cup of coffee looks as if it has gone cold. She keeps her head down. “Look at you…” she mutters. “Yeah,” I say, as I sit on one of the hard seats right next to her. “Marty left me a note that you were in here.” “Marty?” I realize she may not have known his first name. Before I can elaborate, she interrupts. “Oh, the cop that brought me here. He was a cool guy.” “Yeah, he’s nice,” say. I feel awkward, as I look her over. It is definitely her. Her clothes are dirty and she she has that familiar homeless smell about her. Her hair is thick and graying in spots and the parts of her arms that I can see with her slightly rolled up sleeves are dry and alligator like.
“I am a supervisor – was busy last night,” I utter. My way of offering an excuse for not coming in sooner without lying directly. “No problem. I am glad you came.” Now I tell the whole truth. “Marty left a note in my box and when I saw your name I was baffled, I reveal. “Yeah, huh.” she says, looking up at me now. I continue, “I checked the jail log on my computer right away to see what you were in for and it said, 484(g) PC.” She was attentive now, almost anxious…I elaborate. “Fraudulent use of an access card.” I go on as if asking a question. “That’s just a misdemeanor, right?” “Yes,” I say. Her body registers relief, and she turns to the breakfast again and takes a few bites. “Can you believe it.” she says, framed more like a statement rather than a question.
“What happened?,” I ask, and then think it sounds stupid. She starts to tell her story. I listen carefully while looking at her hands, her slumped shoulders as she talks… “It started with a back injury. I was on Vicodin then …I have been in West County for 7 nights and am kicking Methadone….” She stops eating and looks at me. I see that she is unfocused, her eyes strange. I imagine her dope sick and ask. “How are you doing with that?” “Not too bad. I am kicking two pills. I was up to 10 and went down to two before I got arrested. If I was kicking 10, it would be a lot worse.” I think about that but do not verbalize… I have seen people dope sick and it is agonizing to watch. It could be me, I think. I reminisce. The line was drawn; I stepped away and walked in the sand towards the water. So many choices, so many years ago.
Me the cop, I have been pleaded with, offered sex, begged on knees and cried and screamed at by people who I have arrested and taken to a jail who do heroin. I look to her eyes again. The terror of being dope sick drives them to the pleas, the negotiations.