That one time I got arrested




I lie curled tightly in the fetal position shivering on the cold concrete floor. I awake and inhale the stench of urine. All at once the urge to relieve myself overwhelms me. No longer caring who sees me I make my way over to the metal toilet, drop my sweat pants, and squat. At first nothing comes, then a trickle, then a healthy stream. It goes on for so long that my legs start to shake from holding the position. I look around nervously but my action has not disturbed my three other cellmates. I take the moment of privacy to replace my soiled sanitary napkin. The thick absorbless pad they have given me (which I’m sure must have been surplus from a batch bought in the 70’s) is slick with the heavy flow of the first day of my cycle. I clean up as best I can and resume my spot on the floor still shocked that the reason they’ve locked me up is the indirect result of trying to kill myself.  But I’m jumping ahead in this story. I guess I should explain how I got here.

I got the call to come to the police station to several hours before. When I first answered the phone I denied my true identity to the caller, mistaking the man for a telemarketer. It soon became apparent that he was not trying to sell me anything. The detective wouldn’t go into specifics over the phone, except to say that he had my gun in his custody. That bit of information was just enough to get me to come in to speak with him that night. Of course I wanted to know how he gained custody of my gun. But it was also my first time being called into a police station “to answer a few questions.” With my college background in criminal justice I was slightly excited about being involved in a real investigation. At the same time I was pretty sure that my teenage brother, who I had been taking care of but had put out recently because of his disrespect, was somehow involved and I wanted to know how much trouble he had gotten himself into.

Normally when making a quick run I would leave my ten-year-old son in the house by himself but for some reason I had a strong feeling that it wasn’t a good idea. Instead of tucking him into bed like I normally would, I dressed him and took him to my sister’s house. Then I went to give a friend a ride. As I dropped him off I jokingly warned that if I didn’t return to pick him up it was because I was in jail.

Because I had a bad feeling I took precautions. Just incase I didn’t return to get my car in the allotted time I didn’t park at the meters on the street outside of the police station. Instead I parked in the lot of the shopping center across the street. I sat in my car trying to remember what I had learned from my former professor James Fyfe. Before taking up teaching, he had been a cop and a recognized expert on police practices. He had testified as an expert witness in many high profile cases, including the Amadou Diablo case.  In his expert opinion, he had both supported as well as refuted police claims of misconduct. Important bits of his lectures floated from my subconscious to my conscious memory. I remembered that he was always very adamant that police misconduct happened a lot more than people were aware of. He advised us that guilty or innocent no one should ever talk to the police. But since I was disregarding this advice the next most important thing for me to remember was the way to end an interrogation. All I had to do was simply request a lawyer. At that point the police are required by law to immediately stop questioning you, even talking to you. Most importantly if you voluntarily come to the police station to answer questions you are free to leave at any time (something the police won’t voluntarily tell you) unless you’re placed under arrest.

I guess my paranoia that something bad would happen was the reason why I decided to take my video camera into the police station with me. Well the camera didn’t really belong to me. My friend borrowed it from his job (without their knowledge) and loaned it to me to use it for my final. You see, although I had already graduated from college with a BA in Psychology and minor in criminal justice, at this time in my life I was back in school studying film.  That summer I had decided that I just had to try to and pursue my first love of writing. I was planning to apply to grad school  at NYU and Columbia for screenwriting or filmmaking but because I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of the medium and needed to complete a portfolio for admission I had taken some classes. Thus the video camera.

When I walked into the police station I kept the lens cap of the camera on so it wouldn’t record video however it still picked up audio. I considered that the most important thing. The detective who comes to interview me bears a striking resemblance to T-1000, the crazy cop in Terminator 2 so that is the name by which I will refer to him. T-1000 gets right to business. “When was the last time you saw your gun?”

“Which gun?” I ask.

“How many guns do you have?”

“I had two, but now I only have one.”

“What happened to the other one?”

“My older brother took my twenty-two from me three years ago…so I wouldn’t kill myself. I bought a thirty-eight after he took the first one. ”

“And where is that?”

“Under my mattress.”

“Are you sure? When was the last time you saw it?”

My mind flashes back through time to the fight I had with my younger brother on Election Day. I took the gun from under my mattress, pointed it at him, and told him to get out of my house. “Election Day,” I reply. “Why? What happened?”

Ignoring me T-1000 continues. “Did anyone else have access to your gun but you?”

“My younger brother.”

“So he’s the only one?”

“Yes.”

“What’s your brother’s name?” He asks as he leans over to his computer and starts to type.

I give him my brother’s name. (It doesn’t occur to me in that moment that I might be implicating him in a crime.) Then I repeat the information I already told him. I ask again “What’s going on?”

Finally he gives me some information. He tells me that someone made a call from my house last night to set up a pizza deliveryman to be robbed.  My mind flashes back to the previous night. My brother had dropped by. He had borrowed the phone to let a friend make a call. The detective interrupts my thoughts. “A young guy was shot with your gun.”

Immediately I’m concerned. “Is he okay?”

“He’s in the hospital.” He lets that linger in the air for a while then continues.  “I’m curious, why do you own two guns and you don’t know the whereabouts of either of them? Do you think that’s responsible of you?”

The question throws me off guard. “What?”  I glance at my video camera to make sure its still recording.

The detective notices. “Is that thing on?”

Clumsily I push the off button. “No”

He takes the camera from me. “Why did you just push that button?”

I didn’t,” I stammer, “I was just showing you it was off.”

“No. I think you just turned it off.”

He takes the camera from me, studies it. Once satisfied it’s off he sets it on his desk. “What kind of person comes into a police station with a video camera?”

“I didn’t want to leave it in the car to be stolen. It’s not mine.”

“But the gun that was used to shoot this young guy was yours.” He yells, “Why is that you own two guns that you have no idea where they are?”

I snap back. “I do know where they are. My brother took my twenty-two from me so I wouldn’t use it to kill myself and I didn’t know the other gun was missing until you told me.  I keep it under the mattress. How would I know it’s missing?”

“You gave your brother a gun three years ago and you haven’t seen it since then?”

My voice starts to shake. “I didn’t give him anything. He TOOK it from me so I wouldn’t kill myself.” For further emphasis, “I mean I was really depressed. I had been in the psych ward and everything.”

Unsympathetic T-1000 continues.” Did you file paperwork to transfer ownership to him?”

“I didn’t know I had to. I wasn’t in my right mind then.”

“Did you report the other gun missing? “
”No, how could I report it missing if I didn’t know it was gone?” Suddenly I

don’t like the direction the interview is taking. Unsure of whether or not I am guilty of a crime I decide to end it. “I don’t want to talk anymore without a lawyer.”

Someone else in the room calls out. “She must be guilty.”

T-1000 echoes in agreement. “She must be.”

I puff up.” I know my rights. I’m not some stupid idiot off the street. I went to college for criminal justice.”

He snaps, “If you know so much about the law you shouldn’t have any problems answering my questions, because a boy was hurt.” He points his finger. “With YOUR gun!”

The same voice calls out again. “Maybe you should lock her up.”

T-1000 yells back to him looking straight at me. “Yeah. I’m about to cuff her to that bench in there.” He gets up and leaves.

My leg shakes furiously revealing the anger and fear inside.

Another cop comes over. Gently he begins to speak. “You don’t want to go to jail do you? Look I know you didn’t mean to hurt nobody. What’s the story with the gun?”

Happy and relieved to have someone show me some compassion I repeat to him the story of my two guns, emphasizing the fact that I was clinically depressed when my brother took my twenty-two. Sometime during the exchange T-1000 returns and resumes his position in front of the typewriter. He asks me about my younger brother and begins to type again. Suddenly I realize that I’ve just fallen for the oldest cop trick in the book, the good cop/bad cop routine. I call him out on his error. “Wait, wait, wait. I asked for a lawyer. You can’t talk to me after I ask for representation.”

T-1000, “So you want a lawyer?” He continues to type.

“That’s what I said and make sure you put in your report that that’s the second time I requested one.”

“Fine then, you’re going to jail.”

“For asking for a lawyer?”

“For giving your gun to your brother and not transferring ownership to him.”

“My brother TOOK that gun from me so I wouldn’t kill myself!”

“If you wanted to kill yourself you would have. You bought two guns but the only person that got hurt was that boy sitting in the hospital.”

He leads me to a room with only a metal bench and just like he threatened, handcuffs me to it. He leaves slamming the door loudly behind him. I burst out crying. I call a friend who is a cop, and then my sister who has my son but no one answers the phone. As I’m dialing numbers T-1000 busts back in the room startling me.

He rushes over and snatches my phone from me. “Who are you calling?”

“My sister. She has my son.”  At that moment I am so happy that I hadn’t left my son in the house alone because I’m sure T-100 would have charged me with endangering the welfare of a child and all other related offenses.

“I need your stuff.” He takes all my belongings from me and then leaves once again slamming the door loudly behind him.

All kinds of thoughts swirl through my mind. I try to figure out what crimes I will be charged with. I worry about finishing my final in time and about missing work the next day. I worry that my car will be towed if I’m not there to get it the by morning. I don’t have the money to get it back if it is. And even though my younger brother and I hate each other I don’t want to see him in jail. I worry that I may have implicated him. Despite what T-1000 has told me I am certain that my brother didn’t shoot anyone or set anyone up to be robbed. However I have to admit to myself that the older guys my brother has been hanging with are rather unsavory.

T-1000 busts back in interrupting my thoughts.  By this time I have realized that slamming into the room is some kind of scare tactic. He sneers, “You’re so smart. You went to college for criminal justice but you’re still going to spend the next day or three on a cold bench instead of at home in a warm bed just because you didn’t want to answer a few questions.”

“I’ll sleep just fine knowing that I didn’t say anything that you can use to incriminate me.”

He uncuffs me and pulls me up. “Whatever. I hope that boy can sleep as well as you.”

He leads me downstairs and leaves me in booking. Someone hands me my pocket book and coat but not my video camera. “Where’s my camera?” I ask the woman cop who’s trying to finger print me.

Irritated she takes my finger and rolls it in the black ink. “I don’t know nothing about no camera.”

“Huh?”

“Ain’t no camera listed on the paperwork. That means you ain’t have no camera.”

“What do you mean?” Angry and panicked I speak without thinking. “First you arrest me for some bullshit and now you steal my camera! It’s not even mine.”

She gets in my face.” Watch your mouth little girl. I ain’t take nothing from you.  You got a problem with them you take it up with them.” She quickly finishes fingerprinting me then pushes me to a line so she can take my mug shot. She directs me to look into the camera. With tears streaming down my face I defiantly refuse to look in her direction. She yells at me a few more times but I still don’t look. She marches over to me and grabs me by the arm. “I don’t have time for this shit.” She shoves me into a holding cell.

Almost immediately I hear a lot of yelling.  The story I’m able to make out is the police have arrested a woman who is allegedly high on some kind of drugs. She was caught stealing baby formula from a pharmacy and had her newborn baby with her. The ruckus gets louder and louder and soon the tiny offender is in the room right in front of me. A brawny female cop slams her against the wall and yells, “Don’t move!” The woman, who can’t be more than 90 pounds, defiantly crosses her hands in front of her chest.  The cop slams her against the wall. She yells again, “Don’t move!” The woman, fearless from her high, argues right back with the cop. In her excitement she flails her arms around. The cop considers these arm movements to be in violation of her orders and continues to slam the woman against the wall. Eventually the woman remains still, but refuses to shut her mouth.  She goes on and on about police brutality and her baby needing formula.

Later they handcuff me to the woman and load us into a transport van. The van is bare, and icy cold in the Philadelphia winter. As they drive we slam around and against each other. The woman continues to scream and yell about her baby but ignores me like I’m not even there. About thirty minutes later we arrive at what I found out later is the “Roundhouse” or Central Processing. Two cops meet us at the van and lead us into a room where other arrestees wait in line. We join the back of the line and wait for our turn to be searched. When it’s my turn to step up the woman cop pats me down. Another cop sitting at the table looks over my paper work. “Possessing an instrument of a crime. Carrying a gun without a permit.” He shakes his head. “Mmm mmm”

Anger sweeps over me, immediately followed by despair. What have I gotten myself into? I can’t believe this nightmare I’m in. I start to cry all over again. Unmoved by my tears they lead me to an area to be seen by medical personnel. The man listens to my heart and takes my blood pressure. He tells me that my blood pressure is really low but I guess that’s not enough to keep me out of jail for the night. Next they give me the option of removing my shoestrings or having them cut off. I let them cut them off along with the strings to my sweat suit. They hand me a roll of toilet paper and then they lead me down a long unheated hallway. There are cells to my left and a brick wall to my right. They close the bars to the cell behind me. (Now I know what that signature sound on Law and Order is.) The cell is already occupied. A woman sleeps on the full length of the only furniture, a single metal bench. I don’t disturb her and sit on the cold concrete floor. I have no idea what is next. I want to ask the guards but they are all so rude, desensitized by all their time working with criminals. I just sit and wait.

From my criminal justice classes I know that I have to appear before a magistrate and have a bail hearing within seventy-two hours. I count the hours by events. Every eight or nine hours the CO’s (correctional officers) come by with “cheese sandwiches,” stale white bread with a thick slice of white cheese in between, and hug-sized bottles of water. The first two times these luxuries come around I refuse, too proud to accept, but the third time my pride loses to hunger. They also offer me two aspirins which I almost decline until one of my cellmates nudges me to take them. (By now there are four of us in the cell). She tells me that I can sell them when I get to State Road (where the jails in Philadelphia are located).  In jail you can make money off of just about anything that free civilians take for granted.  I give my pills to her since I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to State Road. I know the charges against me are bogus, but then again so are the charges against her—allegedly.

Maria along with my other cellmates, are regulars to the Roundhouse. The reason for Maria’s present stint is because of a probation violation. She’s on probation for drug charges.  She said the cops had been harassing to give them information on some other drug dealers that she knew. She told them she didn’t know anything because she wasn’t hanging out with those types of people any more. I guess the cops didn’t believe her and so they had been staking out her house. Earlier in the night someone approached her trying to buy marijuana. She told them she didn’t sell anymore so the person just asked her for change for a twenty, which she gave them. The cops took that as a drug transaction and raided the house. She claimed that they didn’t find any drugs so they planted some marijuana and then arrested her. Normally I’d dismiss this kind of claim but under my current circumstances I don’t know.

My ex-husband sold drugs and is full of all kinds of colorful stories about police overstepping their boundaries. He said the police took his money on a regular basis, once at gunpoint. I know some people will be hard pressed to believe such stories but if you think about it such things are possible. Cops have been arrested in Philly before on such charges. And who’s really going to believe a known drug dealer over a respected officer of the law?

Maria also schools me on what to expect while at the roundhouse. First I’ll be called for a videoconference and after that a bail hearing. If I make bail I’ll have about eight hours for my family to post it. If they don’t make it in time I’ll be transported to State Road. My biggest fear is that my family won’t be able to make my bail.

I go for my videoconference, explain what happened and make sure to tell the woman I am a college graduate. She wishes me luck and then I am escorted back to my cell.

As I sit waiting for my bail hearing and unsure of what the future holds I cannot help but acknowledge the irony of my situation. I am in jail indirectly because of actions I had taken two years earlier to kill myself. The gun I had bought to end my own life ended up injuring a boy I don’t know.  I also review my qualifications. I am a college graduate.  I had been highly recommended by my former professor Fyfe for grad school at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I had even volunteered in local jails, but here I was locked up and treated like a common criminal. Me!

Aside from shock I am angry, no pissed, that a cop has the power to take my freedom away just because I don’t want to talk to him, that he can charge me with all kinds of felony offenses without probable cause. I am enraged that the police have taken my friend’s video camera and can literally make it disappear if they want to. I am so worried that I won’t get his camera back. I feel so guilty for getting it taken.

Finally it’s time for another roundup of offenders for bail hearings. I stand up knowing I will be in this group but they don’t call my name. I assume that I will spend the maximum time locked up, seventy-two hours. I prepare to wait another eight hours and curl back up on the floor.

A few hours later my name is finally called. It’s too early for bail hearings. I don’t know what’s going on. The guard leads me through corridors of the jail. She opens a door and suddenly I am back to the intake room. She hands me my pocketbook and uncuffs me. She escorts me to the lobby and leaves me there.  I don’t know what’s going on but I don’t ask any questions either.

I walk outside to the early Friday morning sun but I have too many unresolved issues to breathe a sigh of relief. I call my cop friend. He explains that if they just released me without a bail hearing that all the charges against me were probably dropped. He advises me to seek out a lawyer but my immediate concern is to get back to my car and then retrieve my friend’s video camera from the police.

***

I was released on November 11, 2004 to find that my little brother had broken into my apartment while I had been incarcerated. He stole some money and credit cards and my extra set of car keys. The next day he and his friends stole my car. The police didn’t do anything. They said they couldn’t because he had the keys.

The police gave me the runaround about the whereabouts of my camera for the next five days after my release. When they finally called me to tell me they had it, it was 11:15pm. I was in bed. The sergeant told me I had to come get it immediately because there was no telling where it would be in the morning. When I picked up my camera I noticed that the tape had been tampered with. It had been rewinded to the beginning. They also gave me another blank tape. I hadn’t even realized the tape was missing until the police gave it back to me.

Eventually I sought out legal counsel. The lawyer sympathized with my experience but said unfortunately things like that (and worse) happened all the time. He said that it was extremely hard to win a case against the police, and even if they were found to have violated my rights the cost to fight the case might be more expensive than the judgment. I wasn’t interested in a windfall. I just wanted some kind justice. I told him I intended to write all about my experience. He told me that was fine, just don’t use the detective’s name or specify the police department. Despite all this he agreed to look into my case. I received a letter a while later from him explaining that the police had the right to arrest me for failing to transfer ownership of my 22 to my older brother. However, that was not what I had been charged with.

T-1000 never contacted me again. I never found out what happened to the boy that was shot with my gun. My brother was never charged in the incident. He admitted to giving the gun to his friends but denied any involvement in what happened after that. Eventually I got my car back and my brother and I reconciled. I have not bought another gun and don’t intend to.