Since the day IRS agents came a-knockin’ at my door, I’ve done a lot of research in preparation for the possibility of my incarceration. And one admonition I remembered when entering the Tombs was to beware of people offering favors during the early minutes and hours after I got locked up. Yet despite all my reading and the little voice inside my head telling me to beware, I managed to get hustled in those first few hours.
While the arresting officers did offer to let me make a phone call shortly after apprehending me, I declined, thinking I’d get ROR’d – and didn’t need to bother anybody with my unfortunate circumstances. I’ve made worse decisions during this whole nightmare but in retrospect, I’d have been better advised to accept their offer. It wasn’t until more than a day later that I got the opportunity to make that phone call. Yes, my public defender had promised to call my cousin after I was escorted from the court room. But I had no idea if he’d gotten through to her or whether she’d begun the arduous task of qualifying to bail me out. I knew I’d be in for a week. But I was hoping miscommunications wouldn’t make my stay longer.
MDC staff does give each incoming inmate a handbook. But if I had to grade how effectively it actually orients the new detainee, that grade would be somewhere below passing. Clearly, getting your bearings is a touchy deal as in…who the fuck are ya gonna trust in jail? So I approached a mature dude (who eventually became my friend) about the procedure for making phone calls, only to discover that until the money I’d brought along with me was put on my commissary books, I wouldn’t be able to make that crucial call.
Another of my new compatriots overheard this conversation and offered to let me use his code provided I limited the conversation to just a few minutes saying “I know how it is.” I was at once eternally grateful but circumspect – given what I’d read about accepting favors. And so…I declined…but then relented. It was worth the risk. On balance, it was a good decision – though it cost me ten bucks in the end (more about that soon). I got my cousin on the phone and happily, found out she was on the case already.
A few hours later, I was given my inmate number and phone code, which I showed to my benefactor for a grand total of maybe one or two seconds as I asked him to orient me on using the phone system. I figured there was no way in that one or two seconds he could memorize 15 digits (yeah, right).
Satisfied that my release was in the works, I did not use the phone for two days after that. But when I did, the automated operator informed me that I couldn’t use the phone again until 9:29 AM (phone use is limited in the joint). Obviously, either the system fucked up – or an inmate got hold of my numbers. And most likely the latter as my $38 balance had become $28 in two days. To the CO on duty I went explaining my problem. “Did you show your numbers to anybody?” asked she. “Only to one dude – and for like a second. And he’s a good guy,” I answered. With that she laughed me off and exclaimed “There’s no good guys in jail.” I felt like an idiot. But she took pity on me and called down to have my code changed effectively putting an end to the hemohrraging.
I really wasn’t clear whether my original benefactor was the culprit or I’d been careless when making that one phone call and somebody had come up behind me and read my numbers. But it was only ten bucks and with $26 left in my account, I knew I wasn’t going to run out. Not that big of a deal. Just an hour before I was released – and while sitting in the common area minutes before lock-in, up walked my phone call “benefactor” to hand me a packet of commissary coffee he’d purchased that day. He said not a word as he did this and simply walked away after bestowing me with the gift. I got the message loud and clear. It was a peace offering and something of an apology. After seeing me in the unit for 6 days, my benefactor felt a token gesture was appropriate.
In retrospect, I harbor no ill will. It was worth way more than ten bucks to be able to make that phone call when I did. And I had myself to blame for showing the inmate my numbers for even a second or two. But the bottom line is despite my research – and first mind when offered the favor – I got hustled in the joint. As I’ve said before, it could have been a lot worse.