What I Learned Overnight in the County Jail

What I Learned Overnight in the County Jail

We still strip people naked and strap them to chairs. Okay, so maybe the royal “we” here is too loosely applied. By “we” I mean police officers and specifically Dakota County parole officers on Memorial Day Weekend 2012. This isn’t for everyone though. Just for women who try to use boxcutters to puncture their husbands’ chests like a blind person errantly searching for the straw hole in a Capri Sun. Oh, and then you have to threaten to do bodily harm to yourself using your jail-appointed scrubs. That’s when you get the aforementioned treatment. Otherwise they just give you these gross sandals and put your cellphone and shit into a Ziploc bag you can pick up when your mom, wife, or girlfriend picks you up, or, in my case, when you’re sober and threatening to go on a hunger strike.

You think you’ve hit rock bottom until you’ve been handcuffed to a bench. Losing your senior high school playoff game in basketball, getting dumped by the “good girl” in college, maybe having your sister see you sniffing her bra, or getting pulled over on the side of the road in the middle of the night by an off-duty cop who says “you’re the worst driver I’ve seen in 30 years” and then having your face smashed into the window of his Crown-Vic…you can all probably generate a few ideas of what “rock bottom” is to you. But it’s not. At least it won’t be. Because sooner or later, when the officer who brought you in needs to use the pissers and “fill out some paperwork,” you’ll have your left hand cuffed to a long bench and be forced to make conversation with two other gentlemen, one who has been “got me on a domestic, but they know, and she knows I didn’t push her, I was pushed into her, but it’s just protocol and now my newborn son…” blah blah blah and the old Big Lebowski guy across from you with a ripped-open flowering shirt who claims “you’ll be ok kid, book and release, maybe sentence-to-serve, you’ll be okay” and “yeah I tried running, made some terroristic threats, fell into a culvert, and just like Houdini here I am, bub.”

Sealy Posture Pedic is wrong; you can sleep with the lights on, surrounded by 12 strange men, with your head leaning against a cinderblock wall. What happens when they turn out the lights in jail? I don’t know because that’s not how my misery went down. Instead, I was shoved into a glass holding tank with a dozen other gentlemen, some asleep, some shaking, more than a few eyeing me, and then I ran to the corner where you will slowly fall asleep, somewhere around 4:30, 5 a.m. only to wake when a guard is yelling your name, demanding to know your highest level of schooling, and then leading the other dozen in laughter when you tell them, before you reply, “What? You fucking asked?” causing a brief silence to overcome them before the laughter starts again. Around 8 a.m. you’ll get fingerprinted by a guard who will say he still smells whiskey on your breath (though you will tell him you were drinking gin) and he’ll say there’s no way you’re getting out before Tuesday because it’s a holiday and you should instead plan on just fighting for a spot near the window so you can watch the NBA Finals game that night on the only television visible.

Shawshank Redemption is right and old guys like to help out the young guys. Also, a good ole fashioned hunger strike still works. After booking the women, the guards will come for the men. They’ll promise you a phone call. But it has to be local. And you don’t know the number. Plus the phone doesn’t even work. The guards will just say “tough luck.” You’ll say “bullshit” and demand they open up your Facebook page so you can message your brother. They’ll say “tough luck” again and you’ll mutter something about your photographic memory and your having taken a goddamn criminal justice class or two in college. Then you’ll sit on the couches, and a salt-n-pepper-bearded old guy will tell you to “cool off, kid” and explain getting under your skin is just the way to COs work—“Just doin’ their job.” Then when the food cart comes around for breakfast, you’ll refuse. But he’ll say, “eat now, you’ll be hungry later.” When the guards finally let you go (hours and hours after they promised), you’ll give your milk carton and breakfast sandwich to this old timer, who tells you to “enjoy the sunny weekend weather for me.” You nod. As though you really fostered a bond during that 10-hour stay. Then grab your fucking cell phone, sign your name, refuse to laugh at the COs’s stupid joke like we’re on the same team now, sprint out into the rain, and go looking for a Walmart so you can hit up the Radio Grille and purchase a cell phone charger to tweet about the horrible shit you just saw and get a ride out of this asinine town.

Dunstan McGill