#2. Hope for a Single Cell
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It's all fun and games now that I'm almost two decades removed from all this, but the moments between finding out I was actually going to have to spend a few days in jail and finally seeing the inside of the cell for the first time were some of the most unsettling of my life.
For one thing, all that strip search stuff you see in the movies really happens, and nothing starts a visit off on a bad foot like having a dude get you out of your clothes using nothing but his outside voice. It also has a great way of evoking thoughts of another terrifying jail stereotype. That, of course, is the one where you have to share a cell with a dude who's probably going to sell you to a prostitution ring for a carton of Newports.
Your approximate value in jail currency.
Was I going to be sold for smokes by my celly? There was no way to know for sure until I finally reached my cell, but even that turned out to be more of an adventure than I expected it to be. When the guard led me into the cell block, it was eerily quiet, which made sense because it was like three in the morning. What made less sense was what the guard said next, which was something to the effect of "Your cell is up there in the corner."
Exactly the words you'd expect to hear in that situation, except for one thing. "Up there in the corner" for some reason involved stepping over the body of an inmate who, unlike everyone else, was not confined to his cell during sleep hours, but was instead allowed to roam free. Even better, he was awake and cackling like a maniac.
I inquired as to whether the guard realized that there was a dude talking the talk of the insane a few short feet from the cell he'd just assigned me and was met with something about how they couldn't lock this one guy's cell because he was epileptic. "Cool, wouldn't you like to walk me up there at least?" was the next question that I wanted to ask, but I assumed that the guards will rape you like anyone else if they think you're soft, so I bravely climbed the steps and nervously stepped over Shakes while making my way to what would be my new home for the next few days. When I arrived at the door, I saw something that instantly made me feel a little better about the predicament I was facing: a single-person cell.
I don't know if those amenities are available in every jail, but knowing that I didn't have to contend with a horny roommate for the duration of my stay was comforting, to say the least. I'm guessing the availability of a single cell is going to depend on the crime rate of the city where you're arrested. If you regularly read stories in the news about jail overcrowding, don't be surprised if you have to share a cell. If that happens, my only advice is to remember as much as you can for when you write an article about going to jail someday. Beyond that, I've got no tips for dealing with your new criminal roommate.
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Maybe hope for this guy.
I do have some pointers for another famously rape-y area of jail life, though.
#1. Don't Be Afraid to Stink
So here's what happened my first morning in jail. I woke up to find that the activity of choice in the Peoria County Jail on a lazy Saturday morning is to huddle around the communal black-and-white television to watch Soul Train. As this was approximately one color television and a debilitating hangover away from being exactly how I spent my Saturday mornings at the time anyway, I immediately recognized this as my best chance to integrate myself into jailhouse life.
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The comedy rule book states that I must tell you that this image came up when I searched for "Soul Train."
After about 10 minutes of watching chicks in biker shorts dance to Wreckx-N-Effect songs or whatever, I had a conversation that immediately changed the course of my stay in lockup. I'd spoken with a man briefly earlier that morning, long enough for him to tell me he'd been arrested for rape but that he expected the accuser to drop the charges any day now. I assumed he probably used lies like that one to make the chicks he wanted to rape feel comfortable in his presence also, so I replied with a polite "Cool" and made a mental note to avoid this man at all costs.
I put a gold star on that mental note and marked it with an enthusiastic "100 percent!" for accuracy after my next conversation with him, the one I promised to talk about like 15 sentences ago. At one point during the Soul Train party, the raper materialized seemingly from out of nowhere and walked into a room with no actual door. Just an opening in the wall, kind of like it's maybe a ...
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Again, the rule book leaves me no choice.
Oh, shit. I just watched a confirmed rapist walk into a jailhouse shower. Which reminded me that I should probably take a shower at some point. That thought was immediately jettisoned when the rapist stepped back out of the shower room, looked directly at me, and said, "Hey, young blood!"
Right, he called me "young blood," because jail is one of like five things in life that are exactly like TV and movies make them out to be, except worse. Anyway, the rest of what he had to say was much scarier. Here's the complete text:
"Hey, young blood, the shower only works for three minutes at a time, but if you jam this under the shower head it will hold the button as long as you need it. I can show you how to do it quick if you want."
For the record, "this" was a sawed-in-half broomstick that he was clutching above his head as if it was the weapon he'd chosen to take to battle.
On the bright side, the sky is beautiful in jail.
So, to recap, we have a man who's been accused of rape standing in front of a jailhouse shower clutching a broomstick that he's promised to "show me how to use" if I join him in that shower.
Naturally, I declined his offer, opting to just not shower at all for the remainder of my stay. That's not a joke. I knew I would get out sometime Monday morning. It was Saturday morning, and my last shower had been sometime Friday. Things were going to get pretty ripe, that was for sure. But if that was what it was going to take to make sure my asshole was never ripe for being blasted by a series of broomstick-wielding criminals, then so be it.
By the time I got out on Monday, I smelled worse than I ever had up to that point in my life, and probably worse than I ever will again. At least it's the worst I'll ever smell until I die, which is exactly what I'd do before I'd ever step inside a jailhouse shower at the suggestion of a dude holding a broomstick.