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True Stories by Steve Keely
36 Hours in the Broward County Jail
‘I’m a schoolteacher. If a student conducted himself as you have, I’d send him
to the principal.’
‘And now I’m going to conduct you poorly to jail,’ growled the big Ft. Lauderdale cop.
Four hours earlier, I’d walked from the local outdoor paddleball courts along the beach for 6 miles, entered a picnic area busy with weekend tourists and fishermen, and continued for another hour before turning around. A uniformed man on a quad pulled up next to me.
‘Where’d you pay?” he opened gruffly.
“Pay what?” I replied bewildered.
His rage grew and I fell silent. I refused to produce an ID, and gave him my nickname Bo Keely, thinking to escape with a citation that wouldn’t be followed up. Instead, he called that name into the station, which returned unrecognized.
He cuffed me roughly behind the back and lay me in the sand on my back under the noon summer sun for 45 minutes. A cruiser arrived beachside, and I was shoveled into the back and driven to the Broward county jail. Two hours later the cuffs were released and, dizzy with dry heaves and shoulder cramps, I asked for medical attention. A jail nurse declared that I’d drink & eat later with the rest in booking.
The booking area was the size of a basketball court, with a dozen deputy-manned computers in the center of a perimeter of 10’ x 10’ ice-cold cells. The prisoners in each were comical looking with arms and heads ducked inside shirts for warmth with only eyes showing above the collars. Half were black, the rest equal Caucasian, Cuban and Puerto Rican. They shivered and cussed for hours before being called individually to the computers for fingerprints, mug shots and booking.
One by one, as if by ritual, the half-dozen men in our cell arose from the cold metal bench and described their arrest. “The police dog got me by the leg and i kept runnin’ and he kept chewin’!”
Another, ‘I was with my 3 girls when they raided the place. I was doin’ my job, an’ they were doin’ theirs, so I got no complaint.’ The next, ‘They caught my partner and me after the heist, an’ cuffed us together. I sprinted and would have gotten away if he coulda stayed on his feet!’...
A graying black man about my age approached my side and raised his hand. “Pop, I ani’t gonna fuck with you.” He placed his hand on my head, let it remain a second, then jumped back and began punching the cell wall.” It was a seemingly jailhouse laying-on-of-hands. My condition was miserable with nausea, headache, hypothermia and leg cramps – all in high-top black converse tennis shoes still squeaking wet from the surf. Nine more hours in the 50-degree booking cell passed like a dream. A nurse summoned and pronounced me sunburned but cold, and provided a cup of warm water. A bologna sandwich helped ease the stomach. Finally, I was photographed, fingerprinted and marched before the computer for booking.
‘The charges are trespassing, obstruction of justice with disguise, and petty theft for not paying the entrance fee to a state park.’ I had entered a park unaware. ‘The bond is $100. You may use the phone now.’ It was after midnight, and though I’d memorized one phone number the hour was too late to call. (I’m in Florida for the summer to teach racquetball and coordinate the paddleball division of the Legends (over 35-years old) pro tour). We were searched, cuffed in pairs, and taken to the second floor.
Our beds were pads and one blanket each on a common area concrete floor (there were no cells available due to overcrowding). We sprawled about the floor like farm animals, and sleep came easily. Breakfast at 5 a.m. of hard-boiled eggs and cereal, then more sleep. At 9 a.m. the house deputy announced to ready to walk to the magistrate in an appendix building. 100 prisoners filed into a large room with church-like pews.
“All rise,” but I saw no judge. A screen the size of a sheet took his place, and the bearded judge nodded briefly at our lot over live camera. ‘Good morning, gentlemen. As your name is called, approach the podium to hear the charges against you and the bond. Don’t say anything; it can only hurt you.’ Each case lasted 30 seconds, and the judge was honest in disallowing response. Only a quick-tongued Cuban next to me, up for urinating off a dock, uttered so quickly to surprise the judge, ‘I took care of it (an earlier warrant) already.’ ‘Then you’ll take care of it again!’ stormed the judge. Reseated next to me, the Cuban whispered, “The other thing was pissing in the street.’
The charges within the group ran from DUI’s to domestic violence to robbery. A handful of females were up for solicitation, and blew kisses to the hundred men and raised their shirts on passing. We coursed out the courtroom and back to the holding cells. I felt better after the night’s sleep and breakfast, and decided to bond out with half the $200 checked into personal property yesterday. They’d also taken into property my clothes (except wet tennis shoe-&-socks) in exchange for beige jailhouse pants and shirt.
The day was spent listening to inmates’ anecdotes, watching cartoons, and waiting in line to phone my outside contact. I never got to the phone. I requested per procedure that the house deputy pull bond money from my property. This exact plea was repeated 3-times to different deputies during the next 8 hours with no visible result. I lay on a bunk gazing through a 6-inch window slat at a palm tree waiting for birds.
The first hot meal of chicken and rice came 30 hours after entering the jail, and after we paraded to a long-term cell bank on another floor. I philosophically accepted that no outside knew my whereabouts, and that I’d be in the clink for 10-working until arraignment. Suddenly, the last deputy I’d asked about bond sided me, “What are you still doing here? You were bonded out 8 hours ago.” I didn’t let myself believe the grace until everyone else was assigned a bed in the dorm. I settle on the hard floor of the common area as the other prisoners showered, made their beds and returned to watch TV. As one black man watched the Simpsons, a Cuban changed the channel to the movie Perfect Storm. ‘I control the TV,’ yelled the black. “I been here 5 days, so I own the TV,” retaliated the other, and they swatted each other as my heart sank in anticipation of a lock-down that would cancel my release.
Things quieted down until “Keeley, grab your blanket and report to the door,” boomed over the loud speaker. I’d chatted the past 5 minutes with a criminal attorney who claimed to be there to build another case against the city police. He’d just won a separate $300,000 suit for mistreatment during arrest. He explained that regardless of bond posted, new arrivals are held for 3 meals in order that the jail collects $168 per head from the gov’t. “Good luck!’ he yelled as my name was called. I waved back, ‘It’s been a fine weekend seminar for 100 bucks.” I was giddy at exiting.
Down a long hallway we snaked to the property station. ‘You didn’t wear no pants to the jail, or it’d be in the computer.’ I couldn’t convince the property deputy that the jail had lost my gym shorts. ‘We can’t let you out in jail trousers, an’ the computer says you didn’t wear nothin’ in,’ he repeated. I tried to buy pants from other nearby releasees to no avail. Finally, a supervisor produced a pair of children’s jeans that ran to the shins. I hotfooted from that jail fast.
There are lessons from 36 hours in a county jail. The first is, at least at Broward County, the in-house deputies were compassionate, capable fellows with a few exceptions. The prisoners were similarly civil and - without uniforms - it’s difficult to differentiate them. The only bad apple was the arresting officer, who seemed to have a bad day in the hot sun. Embarrass the next officer if you will, but don’t give him a false identity. It’s unlikely you’ll plan to go to jail, but if so observe: Be well fed, watered and rested prior to check-in; take plenty of cash for bonding out, wear warm clothes, and significantly have a contact who’ll accept collect calls on the outside. The overall strategy I employed was to expect the worst, and lies, and that you’ll be there at least a day, keep quiet, listen, exercise and watch your back.
Yesterday, my Fla. racquetball host secured a top criminal defense attorney who pronounced the case ridiculous, and that with my resume and his contacts the charges disappear. Racquetball champ Marty Hogan said this morning that he’s sending a Get out of Jail Free card from his Monopoly set. I just practiced paddleball for 3 hours in a different kind of court, and feel free.
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