The first thing you notice is the gleaming stainless-steel toilet that no one wants to take a dump in. It is the only thing that gleams, or even looks remotely clean in this holding cell at the Riverside County Jailhouse. It might gleam, but it is far from sanitary, being covered with urine while toilet paper hangs at various angles and in various states of decomposition from its sides. As for the toilet paper, there’s none available as any rolls are in use as pillows for detainees trying to sleep off or sleep through their misery. In this small fifteen-foot square room affectionately known as “the tank,” the newly incarcerated await their fate. Once fingerprinted and otherwise “booked” the slow arriving bail amount is revealed as well as the date of arraignment in the event that bail cannot be arranged. It used to be that law enforcement couldn’t hold you for more than three days before you would have to be brought before a judge, but now due to Covid 19 Riverside County has finagled the requirement to ten days. Why? Because they can – that’s why.
The tank will receive up to 12 prisoners at a time, and when it does, there is no such thing as social distancing, especially at feeding time when all who want to eat have to drop their masks to do so. The jail did provide masks at induction, but it was little solace after being transported 30 miles in the prison wagon with five other unmasked violators of the law. At 69 with pre-existing conditions, if any of them had Covid symptoms, I would be as good as dead. So, law enforcement, all who were wearing their masks, apparently wasn’t too concerned with playing Russian Roulette with our lives. I was scooped up in the mid-morning on the strength of a “Failure to Appear (FTA) Warrant.” Ditto for the five other wagon riders. None of us had received any notice to appear.
As the oldest prisoner and one with prostrate problems, I hung next to the toilet to urinate whenever I could, and when the tank held 12 people, this was difficult as someone always used the toilet to sit on as a chair. I adopted a Casper Milk Toast persona, only talked when spoken to, and gave up my seat on the wooden bench in favor of the concrete floor when it was obvious that anyone wanted it. If I could have become invisible, I would have done it. Survive, just survive the ordeal, that’s all that mattered. At induction, a women officer asked me for permission for them to medically treat me, which I quickly refused feeling that they were capable of doing anything to me. Then she said, “What if you get in a fight? We couldn’t treat you.” So, I accepted the medical care feeling that they would never be too quick to break up a fight. What did it matter to them, who got hurt? Their general demeanor rightly suggested that they viewed us all as scum. Better to patch someone up after the fact than to take any preventative measures.
I suppose I should mention my crime. I got popped in October of 2019 for growing marijuana. I have written numerous other pieces about this dolorous experience, so I won’t belabor the point here. I wasn’t taken to jail that day and was informed by the arresting officer that I would be hearing from the District Attorney as to what would happen next. Let me reiterate, I never heard from anyone. The FTA is one of law enforcement’s favorite tricks. With that warrant they get to come on your property and catch you off guard; nose around, so to speak, to see if they can find anything else to charge you with because they witnessed it with their own eyes, and as such, now have “probable cause.” I will say this: when they resort to lying and cheating to achieve their objectives, I see no separation between them and the criminals. It’s no longer about right versus wrong, but it is now all about winning. Winning at all costs is all that matters to them.
There’s a phone in the tank with a speaker so loud that few can sleep when it’s in use, and it’s in use 24/7. This phone operates on a collect call basis, and I was to learn that most personal cell phones are programmed not to receive collect calls. This leaves the bail companies who have their business cards plastered to the walls. You call them. They query as to your ability to pay, and if interested, they will call who you want to reach for help. The calls are monitored and recorded so it’s important not to incriminate yourself. Bail companies require you to pay 10% of the total amount and they guarantee the rest. You lose this 10% as it is what they make in profit for their services. Bail companies are not humanitarian organizations, and to cross them is worse than to cross the police. This is literally a dog-eat-dog business. My bail payment was $1,000.00, which I was able to pay after 24 hours, but I was far from free and clear due to necessary “paperwork,” and know that they move as slowly as humanly possible because the entire aim of this whole experience is to make it as unpleasant and time consuming as possible. I posted bail at 11:30 a.m. and was finally cut loose at 4:00 a.m. the next morning. My initial arraignment was set for 8:00 a.m. that day but the last thing I wanted to do was to appear before a judge disheveled in an orange jumpsuit, totally disoriented, and unprepared. I was also aware that said judge could decide at that time to raise my bail amount. Better to get out while the getting was good, regroup, find a creditable attorney, and formulate a plausible plan of attack. Besides, if Biden was elected and were to make good on his promise to federally decriminalize pot, this whole thing could simply fade away and become much to do about nothing. Buy time, if time can prove to be your friend.
Law enforcement wasn’t going to make it easy. I was comfortable in the tank. I actually felt protected by many of the Mexicans, who I can assure you, respect the elderly far more than the gringos. This old gringo knew that if he could stay as close to invisible as possible that the coast would probably be clear. That’s when my jailers decided to “house” me, and more experienced inmates informed me that when they sent you to the cellblock it took longer for them to complete the bail out paperwork. My cellmate was a 55-year old homeless man who had been there for 17 days and was recently returned from his hearing where all his charges were dropped. He was obviously mentally compromised making me wonder how he passed his mental evaluation. I had mine conducted at 4:00 a.m. on my first day and it was an absolute joke. I answered “no” to all questions except this demeaning one: “How do you feel about your current situation?” “It is what it is,” I answered. My cellmate loudly flushed the toilet nonstop as he yelled at his enemies in the next cell, until he used the toilet to wash his feet which he referred to as a “biker bath.” He referred to me as, “A man of few words.” What could anyone say? We were taken to another holding cell containing nine other individuals at 2:00 a.m. I was happy that I was not released with him because he now considered me his friend and wanted to stay in touch.
A cab dropped me at the bail company at the end of the street and my wife arrived two hours later. The nightman at the bail company informed me that the vast majority of their business came from FTA’s and that it was his considered opinion that law enforcement never actually sent any notices to appear. It was just a game to them. “They shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” he said. I replied, “They’re the police; they can do whatever they want.”