Alex Got In Trouble: Jail time
By Alex Howe, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, November 2, 2007
After I was arrested and charged with burglary for semi-accidentally stealing wine and the Sunday Times from a convenience store, things calmed down.
The Valley News ran a story. The D, busy reporting the breakfast preferences of the Kuciniches of the College Trustee election, did not. I was nearly kicked out of Dartmouth on the spot, but my dean, white wings unfolding, got the College to delay disciplinary action until the legal case was closed.
I continued taking classes, waiting for resolution. A year later, the end was near. By entering the closed store and leaving with goods, I'd technically committed -- and was facing conviction of -- a felony. I had no criminal record, but they were prosecuting me far harder than, say, first-time DUIs. The total damages to the store were less than $200. This led to a flare-up of Marxist rhetoric in my mother.
At the last minute, the charges were reduced to two misdemeanors: Criminal Theft and, to my glee, Criminal Mischief. But as they did so, the prosecution also demanded jail time.
My defense: "Are you kidding?"
The prosecution: "I'm sorry, did you say 'I never want to vote again'? Because that's what we heard."
"But -- "
"'Welcome to Wal-Mart'?"
"B-but -- "
"F-f-felony. We eat futures for breakfast, kid."
"Fine, you win. Misdemeanors and jail. What the -- Christ, are you crying blood?"
Naturally, I Googled the jail. Grafton County Prison. To my horror, the only two results decried the rapidly deteriorating condition of the facility. One compared the jail to a "sinking ship." The other evoked an image that haunted me in the desolate, usually pong-drunk weeks leading to the beginning of my sentence: "In the case of a fire, the inmates are going to die, and the staff is going to die, too, trying to get inmates out."
"Christ, Howe, how are you not freaking out about this jail thing?"
"Oh, no idea. Listen, less talking, pour the beer."
It was time. Going to jail, it turns out, is like going anywhere: I had to MapQuest the directions. I'd like to hear gangsta rappers incorporate that detail of incarceration. And where was jail? Dartmouth College Highway.
The night before, a Psi U acquaintance found out where I was headed.
He lit up. "Is it, like, pound-me-in-the-ass prison?"
"N-no. Haha, of course, of course it isn't."
I had no idea what kind of prison it was, poundings of asses or otherwise. Jail was to be my home for at least a week: my sentence was ten days, but good behavior would make it seven. Ensconced all my life in the fantasy of leisure that is studenthood, I wondered what qualified jail behavior as "good." Would I need to go to guards' office hours? Or should I simply avoid killing the warden with a spork?
I knew that I was assigned to minimum security, a blow to my delusions of masculinity. I wondered how they made that assignment, and how I could upgrade myself: would a Sharpied teardrop tattoo pass man-muster? Telling them that they had my middle name wrong?
"Hell no, pig, it's not Steven. It's Danger."
My actual arrival to jail found me waiting in a receiving area, handcuffed to a metal bench next to an also-cuffed sobbing drunk woman. When she complained about wearing the handcuffs, a cop said, "But look, your friend is too!"
She wailed, "He's not my friend!" Later she turned to me. "What'd you do?" I told her. "But he actually DID something!"
In jail, I was terrified twice. First was my arrival to my assigned area, a large room composed of concrete cubicles (no cells!). Ironically for me, this section was nicknamed "The Dorm." As I followed a squat female guard to my assigned "cube," I realized that the blue-jumpsuit-clad inmates surrounding me were to be my colleagues for the next week, and I did my best to project calm confidence with a hint of swagger. Given that I was scared enough that I could have been peeing myself and not known it, the actual expression on my face must have been a tortured hybrid of abortive machismo and terror.
Not going into a coma became even more difficult when I heard a chorus of shouts from the inmates all around me.
"Hey, it's the new guy! We're gonna gang-rape him!"
"It's a new guy! I'm gonna f*ck him in the asshole!"
"Hey! A new guy! I'm gonna make him give me a blowjob!"
I felt like I was contracting epilepsy. Clinging to the cliff of sanity, I looked to the short female guard -- no help. Her expression read, "Oh, those boys!" I was done for.
Then came peals of surly laughter. Apparently, this was their idea of a joke. Jesus, I thought. My heart began to consider beating again. A joke. On the humor scale, I would place the experience somewhere between apartheid and being decapitated in a shipwreck. (The incalculably unsettling epilogue to this anecdote is that, over the course of the week, several other new inmates arrived, and the "Hey, new guy" "joke" was performed on none of them.)
My arrival was not the last time my fellow inmates impressed me with their vulgarity. One lad had an idiosyncratic name for romantic comedies: "slut propaganda." Indeed, inmates dropped the n-bomb like the opposite of soap. Back at Dartmouth, people were being burned in effigy for daring to speak the name of our College's former mascot, and here in jail people took racial slurs with their coffee. (When there was actually coffee available, which was almost never, and it tasted like it was brewed beneath the AD basement grates. Jail is not fun.) Speaking of race, Grafton County Prison sports an inmate black-to-white ratio of one to 20. You'd have to travel to NoBlackPeople-istan to find another jail like that.
But at times, the actual in-jail experience did approach Hollywood depictions. For example, every other inmate was psyched on push-ups.
Listening to the conversations around me, I often felt like I was in Rap World: denunciations of "snitches" and "rats" were commonplace.
On the whole, jail was boring. The guards hadn't let me keep my carefully-chosen books (I wanted to be able to say I read Nietzsche in jail), and the jail library was mostly stocked with rip-offs of rip-offs of John Grisham. I did manage to get ahold of the second Harry Potter, however, the reading of which was by far the best part of going to jail.
Next Friday, the worst parts of jail and the conclusion of the Trouble saga. Stay black.