The Story of That One Time I Got Arrested, Before I Knew Anything About Anything Part 1

January 4, 2019

7/17/11 Buffalo, NY

Sun easing into the Niagara River… bright, attractive young dates wandering Elmwood in L.L. Bean shirts and sundresses.

I’m sweating profusely in the bum park in front of the M&T on Elmwood, a result of my reluctant decision to wear khaki slacks out tonight. On a day that topped 90 degrees with a heavy dose of humidity, to boot, this may seem ill-considered. Why not go with the Champion mesh soccer shorts, the perfect breathability for this weather? My decision to wear pants carried heavier reasons than the simple anatomical realities of wearing loose shorts around attractive women.

It also stems from the fact that I spent 30 of the last 40 hours in the Erie County Holding Center. This fact comes up sartorially (?) because wardrobe turns out to be a major factor when you are incarcerated in the weedy procedural limbo between Arrest by the Buffalo Police Department and Judgment in Buffalo Criminal Court. The latter phase is executed by officials with mild leeway in the application of the sometimes obtuse but at least demarcated context of NYS Criminal Law; the former relies on individuals with near-total discretion in the at-the-moment execution of that law, who are nearly always given the benefit of the doubt and are safeguarded by a powerful union, a pervasive beneficent public image, and, often, the inability or ignorance of those who their “mistakes” affect and often devastate.

And of course it is the same outside this city’s walls, but I don’t live out there, and the point about wearing pants makes sense, from a personal policy point-of-view, because if you are ever arrested while having fun on the streets of Buffalo you are likely to be taken to one of the “court holds” in the basement, where the temperature can be 20-30 degrees cooler than that outside and where you want to spend less time clasping your calves and shivering and more time looking tough, nonchalant, or bored — or a casual mixture of all three.

Upstairs, in the cells, the temperature is about that of the street multiplied by whatever factor is accounted for by the lack of ventilation and extra sweaty bodies. But at least you can take your pants off.


Tags on the wall of the cell:

“Scheule Street”

“Babcock”

“Dirty Money”


Tags in the pre-court holding room:

“Fuck The World”

“Latin Kings”

“Tiny”

“CAN

I

LIVE”


Started in court hold w/ blue walls, walked to another, bussed to courthouse hold


It isn’t TV. There’s no “I want my lawyer!” There isn’t even a phone call. Three of the 4 phones I could have used were broken and none were able to call cell phones… and no one in a position to do anything for me has a landline. The one landline number I could remember was my mother’s. She lives in Cohoes, NY, near Albany. When I finally jockeyed through the 40 or so other guys trying (and re-trying, and trying again) to reach someone with bail or at least to make contact with “their people,” I dialed my mother and was told that her phone service provider isn’t set up to receive collect calls. The “one free phone call” wasn’t even free. And it didn’t matter anyways, because she was “out of the calling area,” according to the voice on the line, and it would cost me extra. And how? My debit card was in property lock-up with my cell phone and phone directory. There was no phone book there. Even if there had been, it was too late — time to move upstairs to the cells, where there was no possibility of a phone call to anyone with anything. “You’re not coming out tonight,” said the female guard.


The guards have nothing to do with why you’re in there. To them, I was just a disorderly charge, which could have meant violent behavior or anything. There is no mitigation by circumstance. And they control EVERY aspect of your movement within their facilities and the courthouse up until the moment the judge says you can leave.


11 pm is “lights out,” except they never turn the lights out. The guard just turned the muted TV I had been watching off when she saw I was standing up to look at it and looked at her watch, didn’t break stride.

Around this time I started to get nervous. I had slept dependably all day and eaten up good chunks of time doing so because I hadn’t slept the night before, except in nervous flashes on the crowded floors of the various holding pens we were placed in. Bur now it was “lights out,” 2300, and [6 or 7, unsure what I wrote] hours ’til they woke us for court… which started at 0900. And I can’t get to sleep anyways.

I did some more push-ups. Looked through the window-slats through 3 sets of bars across the hall at Division Street (?) and got depressed about the possibility of seeing someone, anyone I know that had no idea I was in jail. Sat back down. Prayed for more nicotine attacks to help me sleep. Made a couple paper footballs out of the ECHC manual. Then drank water, laid down, and really prayed.

I was worried that I would lose it, kept thinking about what if I don’t get called for court tomorrow, and have to spend another night; what if my bail is too high; what if I still can’t get through to anyone I know? I prayed. I thought of my mother the devout Catholic and the God I don’t believe exists and I said Hail Marys and the Lord’s Prayer until the repetition and fond memories of my childhood numbed me into a fitful, almost crazed, sleep.


I worked out a lot in the cell. There was nothing else to do. Push-ups, crunches, and an improvised tricep exercise [that I’m pretty sure I stole from The Departed] with my feet far in front of me and lifting my whole trunk weight with my arms placed on the edge of the bed. I felt a little silly, because I felt like I was stealing scenes from Hollywood prison montages [yeah, definitely stole that from The Departed], while the sun was up anyway. But it made me feel less desperate so I didn’t care.


I spent 30 hours in there. The guy two down it was his second night. If you’re sentenced and a legit inmate you can get books, paper, pens, etc., to ease it, but people do this for years. At the thought of books, etc., I felt in myself the possibility of easing into a relaxed resignment to it, and I thought of the quote from The Wire: “You only do 2 days: day you get in and day you get out.”

But still.


It’s gorgeous on my back porch. Low 70’s and a light breeze, I have beer and cigarettes and fresh air and a candle and this notebook, and it’s still probably a lonely hell in Alpha-17. The 17-year-old kid next to me got a court date by complaining; the older black guy 2 down who had been there a day before us might still be there. Or maybe he went through with his promise:

“If I’m not out today, I’m gonna be here a long time.”


The storm’s coming, Severe thunderstorms predicted from 7am ’til dawn the next day. I’ll be out of cigarettes and beer again by afternoon tomorrow, and I plan to be productive.

I know I’ll be alright.

I’ll be broke and trapped in my house — and without regular meals — but I’ll be alright.


I was in custody from 6 a.m. Saturday, July 16, 2011, to 10 a.m. Sunday the 17th. Of those 30 hours, twenty were spent in an unadorned single-occupant cell, #17 on Alpha Block, and ten were spent being shuffled to and from different holding areas with 40-50 other in-limbo men. Of the twenty in the cell, I spent about 8 or 9 watching a muted flat screen TV at the end of my cell block: Seniors Golf, Criminal MindsStargate Atlantis, an ab workout infomercial. The rest was more boring.


When I was arrested I was walking through the parking lot of an apartment complex on North Street. The parking lot extends north to Summer Street, and is a common shortcut for those walking to Allentown from Norwood or Ashland Avenues, or for those too bored from seeing the same houses on Richmond or avoiding the same huslters and prostitutes on the dark stretch between Bryant and North on Elmwood.

I was wearing a t-shirt. jeans with a gaping rip in the right knee that I hadn’t time or skill to repair, and old kitchen-stained boat shoes. I was carrying an unopened 24 oz. can of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I had maybe six Marb Lights in a pack in my pocket [pretty sure they were Camels], a lighter, my cell phone, keys, belt, and $0.02 in my pocket — my net worth at the time.

I saw the cop cars from about 50 yards off but didn’t think anything of them. The cops are called to this or that dispute in that complex and on the block parallel to it on Elmwood so often that seeing a few cruisers idling on my way home along these routes is hardly notable.

As I passed a cruiser with a blonde female cop at the wheel, she turned and said, “Hey, you, get over here.”

I stopped, turned, and asked her why she wanted me to approach her car. She got out and told me to “get over there” again as she walked towards me. I asked why again and she grabbed me and threw me up against the car.

“You can’t do this,” I said.

“Oh, is that so, Mr. Law School?” she asked and began to cuff me.

“You have no reason to arrest me,” I said, and then unwisely added, “Don’t be a dumbass.”

My comment wasn’t simple angst or stupid aggression, though it comes across that way. It was a plea for her to do the right thing and not arrest me without reason. I had done nothing to warrant arrest or even handcuffs.

At this comment, she turned, with one of my cuffed wrists in her left hand, and smacked me dead in the face with her palm, slammed me into the trunk of her car, finished cuffing me, and threw me in the back. While I sat in the car, I heard her and her fellow officers discussing my cigarettes and beer, laughing. When she returned to the car, I pleaded for her to let me go, as I had done nothing wrong. When I insisted upon this last point, she said, “Mr. Drum, everything you’re saying lets me know I’m doing the right thing in taking you downtown.”

When we got there I was taken to the scary, padded, window- and camera-less intake room and the rest of my belongings were seized. And so began 30 hours in the custody of the Erie County Sheriff’s Department.

The cop delayed her paperwork long enough to prevent me from seeing a judge at “sunrise court” on Saturday morning, so I was forced to wait for the Sunday session — which I almost didn’t get called for. Weekends don’t have later sessions of arraignment, so if you don’t get called for “sunrise” or don’t get bail together by noon(ish), you’re staying the night.


I was never read my Miranda rights. When I got to one of the early court holds, after the first day’s “sunshine” session, I mentioned this to a group of guys and no one in that circle of twelve or so had been read their rights. Some of them also seemed to think I would be held indefinitely, under investigation for whatever robbery or crime had brought the police to that fateful parking lot in the first place.

This had apparently happened to one of the men in there. He had been walking home when he was stopped by officers he passed on his way, like me. They began questioning him and eventually arrested him, after which he was placed in custody for a period of many days.


There was a lot of bullshitting in there. One man in particular, the man who had been in county lock-up since the day before I was taken in, would sidle up to me and mention in hushed tones that we were going “upstate” to “Elmira,” [which now, in the light of history, makes no fucking sense] because that’s what they do with you when you’ve been in ECHC limbo for too long and they don’t know what to do with you. I called bullshit, and he eventually gave up on it, but I couldn’t help thinking that his ruse was rooted in some kind of truth, that some friend or acquaintance of his had been fucked around so badly that he actually wound up an inmate in state prison for some bullshit charge. The same man picked on the 17-year-old mercilessly, saying that because the boy’s charges for fighting came when he was on ACD for a Disorderly charge, he’d probably get a year in jail, because “it’s a year for ‘disorderly’… at least.” He winked at me over the boy’s slumped shoulders as he said this, sharing a new victim with the ignorant cracker he’d fucked with before, but the boy was distraught. His phone calls hadn’t gotten through, either, and his parents had no idea where he was. Even if we got out, he’d have to walk several miles to get home in Adidas sandals — he didn’t have money on him to make a call from a pay phone outside, either. And though he came up for arraignment after me, finally lifted from the windowless, clockless limbo hell in the courthouse basement, I left before I saw what happened to him… and I didn’t see him at the property pick-up desk or on the street afterwards. Some inside thought he’d have to be released into the care of an adult, due to his age — a factor I thought should have prevented him from being locked up in the first place, for a simple assault with other minors.

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