“You know that guy who was all over the news this summer for raping that seven year old?”, the new guy asks, standing next to the table Rob and I are playing cards at.
“Yeah…are you that guy?” I ask back with a smirk.
“No, but it was my brother, and when I get out of here I’m going to kill him!”
Without any further explanation, the large bearded man walks away, presumably to plan his brother’s death. “You see,” I tell Rob who use to be a finance manager at a Jeep dealership , “you wouldn’t hear that sitting in a cubicle downtown“. The man walks back over, angry that some guy wouldn’t give him a phone call as promised.
“I just hate when people tell you they can help you with something and then don’t come through” he huffs.
“I know right…you definitely mentioned something about being able to find crack an hour ago, and here we sit, crack-less”
The bearded man’s eyes light up, “you got money?”
“Do I look poor to you?”
He eyes me up and down, “I’ll be right back“.
I turn back to Rob “Jesus, you mention drugs around these people, and they forget all about calling their kids”.
“Are you really going to smoke crack with that guy?”
“Why not? We are already in the worst place they can put you” I say, laying my unshaven face on the plastic table. “Plus its not like I can get out of going to rehab next week“.
I’d been in ACJ for two weeks, and I kept thinking of my attorney/girlfriend, who I met in rehab. While there we made a mutual friend named Alexa, who looked like a caricature of a MILF and laughed like a drunk hyena. The attorney called me once at 4am while I was watching Donnie Darko for the 78th time and counting down the minutes until Denny woke up and started ruining my day.
“What up slut? Tell me you are watching Donnie Darko too…”
“Even better…driving home from a wedding”
“Poor choice. I know you’re drunk and remember that time I had to fix your BMW by ripping the bumper off?”
“Alexa’s fourth wedding Nick…”
“Why the fuck would you drive all the way to Virginia Beach for that?”
“Why do I do anything? The stories Nick, the stories”
Even though I hated ACJ as much as I hate hearing Taylor Swift laugh, I was getting some excellent stories. Surprisingly, a lot of them involved trannies and drag queens, which was an unexpected twist. Here are some of my favorite:
My friend Rob, the only friend I make during my brief stay, gets a new cellmate. He is a 6ft tall black drag queen nicknamed ‘Mz. Bitch’. “Does it worry you that she actually requested you as a roommate?” I ask.
Mz. Bitch posts a calendar on the wall of when she washes her hair (every three days), her body (every seven days), and a few days marked with hearts which she coyly tells Rob is none of his business. “Ten bucks that’s when she comes at you with her she-meat” I giggle.
We overhear a schizophrenic black man telling the wall that Rob is the “most racist white devil up in this bitch” because of his blue canvas shoes. We are all wearing blue canvas shoes.
I discover that old black men are drawn to me – they give me extra food, blankets, and soap which I use to draw stick figures committing various forms of suicide on the wall next to my bed. “Maybe it’s because of my boyish looks” I theorize to Rob “and they feel guilty for abandoning all of their illegitimate children“. He gives me a look and says “and they call me a racist“. I guess it doesn’t help that I can never remember their names and have taken to calling them Old Black Man #1, Old Black Man #2, and so on.
I learn a new phrase and fall in love with it: dry snitching. Basically when you tell on someone accidentally. I just like the way it sounds when I say it like a sassy black woman while bobbing my head and wagging my finger. Once an hour, I’ll seek Rob out and whisper “you knows what I heard“.
He hangs his head, exasperated by my obvious obsession “no Nick, what did you hear?“.
Still in my black lady voice “well, I don’t knows if it be true…but I heard that these niggas be dry snitchin” I whisper yell in mock outrage. My fun comes to an end when Old Black Man # 11 overhears me use the ‘N’ word and stops giving me extra fruit loops.
Rob and I spend hours creating elaborate back stories for the correctional officers who all seem to be hired directly from an adult GED graduate program. My favorite involves a middle aged black lady named Officer Womack, who is OBSSESSED with collecting the plastic trays we eat from like dogs. She walks both levels, peering suspiciously into each cell asking “any trays in here?“. Out in the hall you could hear her muttering “oh lord, these mens, always trying my patience with these trays“.
The story we come up with for Officer Womack – Patrice Champagne Womack – was that each night she builds an ark in the jail basement made entirely from plastic trays. The Jesus bobble head stuck to the dash of her Buick warned her of an impending flood.
We take turns playing her, standing in front of her congregation at a packed Baptist Church. “And all of a sudden I heard the Lord’s voice, and he said Officer Womack, you need to build an ark…what’s that?…why’d he call me officer?…because Jesus respects my position, that’s why LaTisha!”
My first roommate tries to kill himself with a plastic bag and a sheet on the lower bunk. He fails and they take him to the Pysch floor. No one mentions my soap pictures of suicide all over the wall. I’m a little upset until I realize I still have some extra soap and add ‘bag over head’ to my mural.
One of the best parts about ACJ is getting to spend 72 hours going through ‘intake’ without a bed or blanket. It will make you question if you are really in America, and maybe even some of your life choices. Instead of using the time for judgmental self-reflection, I choose to mess with the old white guy sharing the metal bench with me in the windowless room.
He’s reading a small black book that I assume is a Bible, and he keeps asking me what certain words mean. Real brain teasers like ‘futile’, ‘teetotaler’, and ‘apathetic’. I take a glance at the front of the book and realize it is an abridged version of the AA Big Book. Normally, I would have ran, fast and hard. I can think of very few things that are as insufferable as a person with less than 24 hours off a bender wielding a Big Book. Locked in a cell as I was, escape was off the table, so I decide to have some fun.
“Have you ever read the full version of the Big Book?” I ask the man brightly, putting on my best AA ‘I care about everyone’ smile. Old White Guy looks confused and asks “This isn’t it?”
“Oh my gosh no, I WISH…see how it says ‘abridged’ on the front?”
Old White Guy nods. “Well that means they left a lot of stuff out, so you can take it wherever you go, like this cold jail cell“.
For readers not familiar with AA, first, thank whatever fake God you pray too, and second, the abridged version just means all the personal stories in the back are left out. Which is a shame since they are marginally interesting.
For the next half hour I fill Old White Guy in on everything he needs to know about AA that he would be reading about if he had the full version. I don’t remember everything I said because I was high on Xanax, but I do know that I borrowed heavily from Exodus.
I tell him he can’t wear clothes made of two separate materials and that he is no longer allowed to use condoms or oven mitts. When I got to the part about AA mandated circumcision, he sets the book aside and never picks it back up. Another person saved!
On my last morning at ACJ, I’m changing into real clothes back in the intake area while a chubby pig with a sloped forehead watches me. “You sure don’t look like you belong here boy” he says, caressing his protruding gut.
“Thanks,” I tell him “I’m just here for the stories”.