So when we last left our hero, in Part 1 of this epic tale, he was sitting in jail. The big house, the pokey, the joint, downstate, up the river, the pen, the clink, the cooler, the hoosegow, the slammer, stripe city, the stir, the stony lonesome, I had a suite at the Greybar Hotel as a guest of the state (well, the city actually).
It’s relatively easy to make fun of it now, but at the time it was extremely frightening and caused me to seriously contemplate the idea of ending it all. When I informed the guards of this, they moved me to a cell closer to their desk and took away my toilet paper.
Some of my fervent readers have left comments to the previous post wondering how in the holy heckfire they thought I was going to off myself with toilet paper. This is actually something I myself wondered, and since I had nothing to do but think and try to sleep for 19 hours, I had some time to ponder some scenarios.
Toilet paper being soft by necessity, you really couldn’t give yourself a decent paper cut with it so death by a thousand cuts was out. All I could really come up with was choking. Not a good way to go. Contrary to a popular late 20th century movie, suicide is not painless, but choking on toilet paper? Pass-adena.
Well, your ever vigilant bloggist has once again done extensive research and learned the following facts about death by toilet paper:
- In 2009, a Naval petty officer who had been charged with murder killed himself in a brig that was under video surveillance because he’d made two previous suicide attempts. He had apparently stuffed toilet paper in his mouth, blocked the airway, and suffocated.
- In a 2006 clinical paper, two researchers describe a schizophrenic psych ward patient who was found in the institution’s bathroom with toilet paper stuffed in his mouth. Whether this was actually a suicide or homicide was in question, however, because the patient was in possession of a large number of expired meds that would have knocked him out much more easily.
- Insideprison.com describes a female prisoner who “broke a water glass against her cell wall, wrapped the broken pieces in damp toilet paper-ball, then swallowed it, resulting in fatal bowel perforations that would take six days to kill her.” OK, two things. What was she doing with a water glass? Also, six days. Harsh.
- Finally, this year a former Canadian Colonel was being held on murder charges when he tried to choke himself by stuffing a cardboard toilet roll stuffed with foil and cardboard down his throat. He didn’t “succeed” but he does get creativity points for writing a suicide note on his cell in mustard. Wait a minute…colonel? Mustard? I’m detecting a theme here. Did he murder his victim in the library with a candlestick?
Now that you know entirely more than you ever wanted to know about toilet paper suicide, let’s move on with our story.
There I was, in my cell with nothing to do. No TV, no reading material, and no glasses even if I did have reading material.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. A couple of the cells previous occupants had thoughtfully left some writings for me to enjoy. One former inmate was quite prolific…and not a big fan of the authorities apparently. Scratched into the cinder blocks that surrounded me were such sentiments as “FUCK THA POLICE,” “KILL ALL PIGS,” and “PIG DRINKING FOUNTAIN” (with an arrow pointing to the toilet bowl). The same author appeared to have a theory about whether you should eat the jail food, “THEY WILL STERILIZE AND POISON YOU.” OK, important safety tip. Thank you.
In what looked like the same writing was also the word “REDRUM” scratched several times around the cell. Obviously a Stephen King fan. Not to be outdone, another former resident had countered with the word “redneck,” except he spelled it “redeck.” On second thought, maybe it was just a note to self about some work he needed to do on his back porch when he got out of jail.
While I was reading all this. It occurred to me to wonder how this author could be so prolific. They had taken everything away from me that I could have written or scratched the walls with. Except that before I told the guards about my suicidal thoughts I did have some change on me. I guess all of this writing might have been scratched with the side of a coin. The other problem was that this cell was just across from the guard’s desk. Dude would have had to have been very sneaky as well as prolific. Of course they could have re-arranged the layout since this writing had been done.
Later on when I was sitting on the concrete bench next to the window, I saw that someone had scratched into the window frame a sentiment I could understand: “Jesus Christ please let me get out of jail today.” While I certainly understood the prayer, I couldn’t help thinking that Jesus might be more willing to cooperate if you hadn’t vandalized the jail. Just a thought.
In spite of the graffiti warning, when they brought me dinner I decided to partake. Now just about everything in this experience goes against the stereotypes of jail that we see in the movies, my cell wasn’t dark, there were no bars, and there was no tin cup to bang against those non-existent bars. Food was no exception. In the movies they always have a little door at the bottom of the cell door that they slide the plate through. Nope, a guard opened the door and another inmate handed me a Styrofoam to-go box and a cup.
“Here ya go, brother,” he said.
He called me “brother!” I’m now in the fraternity. I felt like saying “Right own” and giving him a terrorist fist bump, but I just said “Thank you.” I guessed that the inmate was there for more than 19 hours and had been given a job at the jail.
One thing that did not go against the stereotype was the jail food itself. It consisted of an attempt at chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with cornbread and cake. Now, I am by no means a food snob. I was raised on simple food, I love macaroni and cheese, I am well acquainted with the Banquet and Stouffer’s section of the frozen food aisle. My point is, I can get along with just about any kind of food you put in front of me. If it’s a bit bland, then a little pepper can cover a multitude of sins. This stuff though – it transcended bland and crossed over into bad. The chicken fried steak looked like it had been formed from many different parts of animals and probably some other things like texturized vegetable protein and sawdust. The potatoes were obviously instant, but whether they were actually potatoes was unclear. The cornbread and cake weren’t much better. On top of all that, there was no salt or pepper supplied to me to try to make any of it a little better. I guess they were afraid I would snort the pepper and try to sneeze myself to death.
My drink at first looked like it might have iced tea, so I braced myself for it to have lemon in it – which should never be done to tea, by the way – it didn’t, but I also wasn’t sure it was tea. It might have been Kool-Aid. Whatever it was, it was so weak I would have been happier if they had just brought me a cup of water. But, it was liquid and it sufficed to wash down all the other wretchedness that I had just consumed.
After my sumptuous meal, I again had nothing to do but think. Think about how I got there. Worried about my family, who were expecting me home hours ago. I knew I was supposed to get a phone call, eventually. I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to get a further reputation as a trouble-maker, but I knew that Mom and Iris would be getting worried.
And then when I did get the chance to make a phone call, what would I tell them? The next day was Mother’s Day. Not only was I going to ruin Mother’s Day, but Iris already had her hands full because my brother-in-law Harley was in the hospital with pneumonia.
“How, Joe? How, do you keep doing stupid ass shit like this to yourself and the people you love? What the fuck is wrong with you? Oh sure, depression, ADHD…BULLSHIT! You make bad choices!!!”
Sitting there on my pad, I reached out and touched the cold cement floor. I reached out and touched the cold, yellow cinder block wall, and continued to talk to myself.
“Do you feel that? Feel it. Feel it good. This is rock bottom. This is literally rock fucking bottom, do you hear me? You don’t go lower than this.
“You don’t go lower than this!
“YOU DO NOT GO ANY LOWER THAN THIS!!!
“Feel the pain. Feel the anguish. Feel the boredom. Feel the fact that you probably won’t get any sleep tonight. Feel the fear of what’s going to happen to you. Feel the fear of what you’re putting your family through.
“Feel it. Feel what rock bottom is like. Own it, but don’t live here. Crawl your way out, a centimeter at a time if you have to, but crawl your way out, and don’t come back here.”
Eventually, the male guard came back to talk to me. By this time he appeared to understand that I wasn’t “acting up,” but that I really was scared.
“Look, this isn’t a big deal,” he said as he squatted down in order to better make eye contact. “I know it seems like a big deal because you’ve never been arrested before, but you can get through this.”
He went on to tell me about a time when he attacked a patrolman who had pulled his son over and was – he felt – being overly aggressive. He said that because it was his first offense the court allowed him to do a “pre trial intervention.” He had to pay a fine and do public service but he didn’t have a criminal record, and that is what allowed him to remain an officer.
He mentioned the name of the judge who came in the next day. He said, “He’s a good guy. It’s your first offense, non-violent, most likely he’ll work with you.”
That made me feel better. Then it was time to get me booked. The lady officer came and got me, led me to an area where they had a rack of orange jumpsuits and a shower. She sized me up and picked out a jumpsuit, gave me some orange flip-flops, gave me a small cup of liquid soap and a towel, and told me to strip off everything but my underwear, put my clothes in a bin, take a shower, then put on the jumpsuit. She went around the corner while I did so, I put my WalMart clothes in the bin, took a shower and got into my prison jumpsuit.
And, yes, I looked just exactly as GQ as this guy. Whatever happened to stripes? There’s another jail stereotype that doesn’t happen in real life.
She fingerprinted me, gave me a toothbrush and toothpaste, and then it was time for what I had been waiting for and yet dreading. My phone call.
Stay tuned for Part 3.