Just after 9 PM lock-in last night, my cell door crashes open and a corrections officer appears in the opening. “Mersey! Grab your blanket, tans, and sheets. You’re going home.”
“Can I return Upper 19’s books before I go? I want to do the right thing,” ask I. He doesn’t give a crap about that. So I simply place them on the card table next to my cell where for the past 6 days a group of Puerto Ricans has been playing some unidentifiable card game at 120 decibels.
At the entrance to my unit (8 South), I get frisked for what seems like the 100th time and then continue to the elevator where I already know to face the wall without being told. Down at intake, things go smoothly for a change. I sign some papers and am handed the stinky yellow bag in which my street clothes have been stored. But then I’m ushered into a holding pen inhabited by one stocky Puerto Rican putting on his street gear…one 50-something mellow kind of black dude still in his khakis…and two wild young black thugs likewise attired.
Things are not going well for them. Like me, they’ve been bonded out…but the CO’s can’t find their shit. The banter is what I’ve come to expect: “Stupid mother fuckers! You guys got no brains. Get me the fuck outta here, n—–r!” Clearly, they have some harsh comments about the inefficiency of the system. The CO’s ignore their insults. They’ve obviously heard it all before. In the meantime, I’m wishing one of the inmate workers from back in my unit good luck. He’s passing out water as part of his dollar an hour job which finances his trail mix jones (available at the commissary). Ditto with one of the CO’s on duty who I got to know in my unit during an inmate meltdown. All kinds of crazy shit happens routinely at the Tombs. If you want to see an insane asylum, you don’t need to go to Bellevue. Manhattan Detention Center rates equally or above the hospital when it comes to crazy.
Back to the system. Processing when I came in took 20 excruciating hours, and a wave of panic comes over me. Could I be in for another marathon? Thankfully, not. Miracle of miracles, within 20 minutes, they call me out and I’m walked through the 100th metal detector and into a scummy garage and garbage area where they lift a metal gate designed to receive trucks and instruct me to turn left and then make another left into a building where I will be getting the money back that’s left on my commissary and most important, the keys to my apartment. This strikes me as a little hinky. What recourse have I if something goes wrong? I know from experience that backtracking will definitely not work! I’ll have to fill out paperwork and then wait three days!
Sure enough, I find the incredibly disgusting and dirty property claim window. But guess what! Nobody’s there! I bang and yell like the animal inmate I’ve almost become and after several minutes, a uniformed whatever comes to the window on the other side of the space to tell me the building had a water pipe break (I know that because earlier in the day, we all got locked in when an inmate went berserk and broke a couple of water pipes causing the elevators to flood and shut down). But more important, the property claim computers are down…everybody’s gone home…and he tells me to come back tomorrow. In total dismay, I ask when he thinks the problem will be solved and he repeats what he just said with an attitude and zero sympathy for the reality that it is 11 PM. I have not a penny in my pocket and no way to get into my crib. I am effectively that homeless guy I’ve been feeding almost every day for the past 4 years. Why MDC would release me knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get my keys is something you would have to ask them. But after spending almost a week in their care, it doesn’t surprise me. This is not an institution particularly concerned about their detainees.
So anyway…what the fuck to do now? First I have to find one of those free phone kiosks. No easy task. Then I have to remember the number of somebody who will let me crash for the night. Another challenge. I’m already scoping out benches and doorsteps where I might be as comfortable as possible given the circumstances. Then I get lucky – successfully recalling someone’s number who invites me over. And that is where I am right now.
Without pen and paper in my cell, I wrote nothing while incarcerated. But in the foreseeable future, I’ll be describing what life is like in a county jail – a New York county jail. Not for the faint of heart I assure you. Stay tuned.