7 days in SF Jail - Halloween Friday Transfer
By bblfish on Nov 13, 2009
My depressed cell mate fell asleep on the one available bench leaving me too little space to lie down myself.
I paced up and down, trying to imagine all the possible options left open to me. Perhaps if I got transferred to San Francisco there would still be a way to get the court hearing early Monday, be freed and have the rest of the day to present at the Santa Clara Social Web Camp, or at least be free for the rest of the week to attend the other conferences. I held onto that hope as a drowning animal holds onto the smallest twig that comes his way. Perhaps one could overturn the ICE Hold? Perhaps Sun lawyers could get me out of here. But I did not have any number for them. If I had to go to court soon I should be in San Francisco jail. When would that happen? I had been told that they had five days to get me over there. Mix all of those thoughts with my still not being clear as to why I was here at all: why was the case re-opened? Had I forgotten to do something really important? Had someone perhaps stolen my identity? I was swimming in a sea in upheaval, pounded by strong blowing wind, waves shifting ice blocks here and there, and me trying to swim between these to a solid shore.
My cell mate moved somewhat leaving me a little space to curl up on the edge of the bench, shut my eyes, and sleep.
Breakfast in Jail in the US is served at 4am, something to do with military discipline I guess. Cereals and milk was on the menu, and powder orange juice to mix with water from the fountain above the metallic toilet.
My cell mate was in a better mood now, though more anxious about loosing his job. He was caught between hating the police and wanting to join the force. Later he was talking of joining the marines if he lost his job. His moaning repetitive. He called the interphone for information on his release time, they answered "San Mateo police Taxi service. What can we do for you?".
He had a pee in the back toilet, separated from me just by a low wall. I wondered what the officers positioned outside on their elevated pedestal could see.
Around 5am a Eurasian man came to the window and presented himself as an immigration officer. I was hopeful. He opened the door and let me out pointing to a chair. Having taken a seat, I asked him if there was anything that could be done to overturn the ICE hold, so that I could bail out. He said he could look into it. Then he proceeded by asking me a number of boring questions, very similar to all those I had already answered previously. On returning to the cell I could not really work out how asking those questions could have helped him make a case for me. I wondered how long it would take him to get me an answer. I tried to get his attention through the window, but he was already interviewing someone else, and indicated that he would come later. When he did come around, furtively, checking the corridor to see that nobody was there, he indicated that could be a whole day before he knew. Mhh. That would push things to the weekend.
At some point a tall tough rough yet elegant woman officer arrived, clearly with a leadership role, seeing how the male officers followed her closely and seemed to be wanting to outdo each other in appearing even tougher. There seemed to be some urgency somewhere, and there was a lot of marching up and down the corridor.
My cell mate kept trying to invent scenarios of what he should tell his boss to explain his being late. Perhaps he could get away by telling him that his mother died, or had a stroke. I suggested that his boss would then wonder why he had not called to tell him about this earlier. He should call work immediately. Being in jail for Jay Walking and drinking a bit too much sounds like something that could happen to anyone. Why make up a complex story, when the truth is so simple? And it would be a lot more useful for his work to know that he would have trouble coming than to let them wait on his possible arrival... He never followed up on this suggestion though, preferring instead to invent lies one more complex than the other.
Time passed. My mind was going in circles from one possibility to the next. I could not call anyone and did not know how to get any number. If I was going to be out here for the weekend I had to do something. But there was nothing to do. I needed a lawyer and some guidance! A telephone to call people and let them know of my situation. I banged my fist repeatedly against the window shouting in desperation "I need some help!". The tall woman and her officers appeared quickly. I sat down on my hands as quickly as possible. Complete submission was clearly what was required here: I did not want to appear aggressive - I was just lost. I explained that I did not know why I was here, that I had come from Europe for a conference, and that I had no way to contact people from my work. She said that is what O.R. was for - had I not spoken to them? On the verge of crying I said I had no idea what this O.R. was that people kept telling me about, nor what their role was. And that they had told me just that I could not bail. She told me to behave if I did not want to be dropped in the isolation chamber. She would see what she could do. And O.R. stands for Own Recognizance.
Next I knew, an officer came to bring me to San Francisco.
I was out of the cell, my thumbprints taken once more, then handcuffed, joined by an older black man, and walked by a friendly officer to a transition cell, where we were to wait for a van to drive us to San Francisco. The officer told me I would probably have a court hearing on Monday morning. Cases have to processed within 72 hours. (Though weekends don't count I was later told) Damn, that was going to be a lot of time to spend staring at the wall. The officer was holding the bag of things that they had found on me at the Airport including the 1400 page collection of essays by Francois Julien, whose title in English would read something like "Philosophy disturbed by Chinese thought" [note: see this french interview in Philosophie magazine] "Could I not have that? It's a book of philosophy, nothing harmful.", I pleaded with the officer. "No!" was the clear and final answer. "We cannot give detainees any belongings." So how could I get a book then? "You need to have friends and family send it to you directly from the publisher". I could not understand the rule at this point, and clearly revealed myself as a greenhorn arguing about this. My potential aura as an international terrorist/mafiosi arrested at the SFO airport had just vanished in a puff of smoke. I could see that in the eyes of my handcuffed partner. Nevertheless, a book like that could have usefully filled up the empty holes of my time in jail. Were there any books at the San Francisco prison perhaps? There must be bibles at least - I'd been looking forward for some spare time to read the bible carefully. Yes, but only for prisoners after they have seen the judge. I suppose they want us to socialize. Why not. After all one can read books anywhere. If I was going to be in Jail, I might as well make the best of it: there are few occasions in life where one can meet so many characters at such turning points in their lives.
The older man was happy that a day in court would be nearing where he could have a chance to get out. He did not want to end up loosing his house for not paying rent. The time he was in jail he had counted as vacation time.
We were given lunch - a small fistful of peanut butter, 4 slices of bread, 3 overly sugary biscuits, some carrot sticks and a small carton of milk. It must have been close to 11am. My cell mate had some spare food that he had amassed over his month in jail, and kindly offered me a few biscuits. All his food had to be eaten before leaving. The cell was a bit of a mess after he ate, as he left everything on the floor, papers, some nut remains, orange peels ... Later, in San Francisco, as someone pointed this out to him, his answered that this created jobs for the inmates who cleaned up afterward. Well, in my view there is infinite amount of work to do, so there is no need to create absurd work. But this was not the right time for such a debate. He had experience in Jail, and he could help me work the ropes.
From his sock he took out a little bundle of papers. Phone numbers, case papers, even a pencil I think. I was surprised he could have anything at all with him. A pencil was like gold in jail for those like me no longer used to remembering phone numbers by heart. Those were his court papers he said, and he was really keen on keeping them with him. I understand. Without documentation things can get very difficult. As we later were to go, and the officer found those in his sock, he had to argue passionately with the officer to be able to keep them. The officer was lenient, and tied the little bundle to the exterior of the box containing the man's possessions, and told him he could get that back in San Francisco. That sounded good. So one could have papers with one...
I was led out of the cell, asked to lean against the wall. The Sheriff took out a huge handcuffs, locked my hands together, asked me to turn around, lift one foot, locked that up, then lift the other, and locked that up too. We were now both ready to walk, slowly, very slowly, limited at each step by the chains tying our feet together, inching our way to the van waiting for us. Then stepping into it with great care. A slight mistake and one would fall straigh on one's face. There were three benches. My companion sat on the middle bench, me on the back one. The door was shut behind us. The van left to SF. Someone switched the air conditioning on, and I was freezing.
In San Francisco we followed the same procedure. We were placed into a cell, where we could make phone calls. The policy was a bit more generous here: local calls were free. Then we were taken out for hand prints again, photographed, given a new wrist band, an orange one this time. Then moved back to the cell and made to wait. The procedures for entering and exciting jail are very slow, designed to make sure nobody gets lost in the system. Papers are moved from one desk to another. Information entered into a computer. Physical identity verified.
On the right occasion my cell mate asked if he could have his papers back, as he needed them for court. I used the opportunity to ask if I could get access to my cell phone, and retrieve a few phone numbers, so that I could try to contact some people at Sun. I was told I could do that later. And indeed much later I did succeed in getting 5 more phone numbers from my iPhone. Sadly most of them were for phones that did not permit collect calls, and others were very rarely answered.
We were then transferred to a changing room, where we each received orange underpants, orange trousers, orange socks, an orange t-shirt, orange sandals and an orange pullover. A great pumpkin disguise for Halloween, as I had just been reminded it was.
And yes, it was going to be hot out in San Francisco someone who joined us said. He had heard of gangstas that were going to go on Halloween with real guns disguised as play toys. "-Hand over the money. - No problem. Here have it all." one joked. And indeed quite a lot of the newcomers of the next few days were Halloween related cases.
Calling the consulate
An older white man, in for shoplifting, who turned out to know a lot about ecology, and had been fighting that cause for a long time, but had lost his job a couple of years ago now - too old to work - suggested I call the consulate. Very good idea, and I thanked him for it. I used the first opportunity to get hold of an officer to explain my predicament. He allowed me out, and helped me make a call on one of the external phones, as that number could not be reached from the phones in the cell. The consulate wrote down my details and told me they would send me some information. I felt somewhat relieved.