Friday, March 10, 2006

by Jessica Delfino

One of the most emotionally exhausting, depressing and time-wasting things I've done in a fortnight is visit my boyfriend at the Manhattan Detention Center, aka "The Tombs" aka Bernard B. Kerik Complex (named after a true criminal) aka jail. Though the process is painstaking and belittling, in other ways it is educational and inspiring in that the visitor's waiting room is a true cultureshock rainbow - and an experience not to be missed just because you have no criminally charged loved ones.

There is a system to a visit, like any thing else that has a system. The process is quite simple once you've got it down. It begins at home as you are getting ready to leave your house. To save some time, do yourself a favor and do the following, which I will call STEP 1:

a) make sure your cellphone and contraband are left behind, unless you have a few days to sit around in a cell
b) be sure to have at least 2 quarters for the lockers (not two dimes and a nickel)
c) have the inmate's book and case # and cell # written on your hand or memorized
d) don't forget to bring a good book, a pen, your ID and maybe a snack
e) wear shoes that slip off easily, you're gonna have to take them off twice
f) don't wear a sweater with a hood or any jewelry (except your wedding ring, you will have to take them off)
g) go to the bathroom BEFORE you leave your house
h) be prepared to say good bye to the next 3 hours

STEP 2: At the front entrance a cop will ask you through a crack in the door (which is always kept locked and is only unlocked every so often when the police man on duty finally decides to inquire:) if you have a cellphone, cigarettes, beeper, pager, weapons or contraband on your person. If you didn't do as suggested above and the answer is yes: you can't come in. Proceed to the local deli round the corner where a "gentle" man charges you $5 to "store" your cellphone (and contraband, I found out!), and by store, I mean toss into a brown paper bag held behind the counter with a "receipt" which is actually just a scrap of paper with your name written on it in pen. If the answer is no: move to step 2.

TIP: The visits begin either at 7 AM or at 1 PM, depending on the day. If it begins at 7 AM, don't even bother to get there til 8 AM or later, because they don't really get things going til 8:30 or so. At 1 PM, you can show up at 1 PM. If you get there right on time, the facility won't be open yet and there will be a small crowd of visitors pooling outside. Wait against the wall to the left of the door, as that is where the police officer will instruct people to form a line. You will be first in line if you are already waiting there.

Step 2: You are asked to show ID and then led in the door to a small table where your bag is half-heartedly searched, or not searched at all. The back of your left hand is stamped with invisible ink and you are given an index card on which you are to write the inmate's name, book and case #, cell #, number of visitors, package being dropped off? y or n, and on the back side of the card, your name, address and date of birth, in case they need to arrest you later. Shockingly, they don't ask for your blood type, favorite song or a three page essay regarding an interesting anecdote from your childhood.

Save yourself some time - as you're approaching the building:

a) have your ID out and ready
b) have your pen in hand and the inmate's book & case number and cell number written on your hand or memorized
c) have nothing in your pockets - just carry a bag with everything you need in it, such as your book, your quarters, any property to give to the inmate (see approved list below) etc. If you do it as I've outlined it, you will save time and decrease your room 1 wait, getting you in for the visit and out of the joint faster.

Step 3: You give the index card to the dude at the desk, sit down and wait for anywhere from 5-20 minutes. Sometimes you wait for longer, though it is unusual to wait longer than 5-10 minutes.

Step 4: Read a book or whatever and wait, but sort of pay attention, because they will call the inmate's last name whom you are there to see, not your name. When they do that

Step 5: You go over and get the card. Keep your eye on that card like it's a winning lottery ticket. If you lose it, you're gonna fuck everything up. If you have a package for the inmate, you know, porno magazines or razor wire, at that time, get into the line to drop off property.

Step 6: Wait a long time for the bitchy ass package lady to be rude to you.

Step 7: Hand the bitchy ass package lady the index card and put your shit into the bank teller-like open door. The bitchy ass package lady will not speak to you, will give you "say, what?" bitchy black lady facial expressions if you try to ask her something, and give you attitude anywhere extra she can squeeze it in, so just stay put and wait quietly. MAKE SURE SHE GIVES YOU THE INDEX CARD BACK! Whatever you can't give him, you can take into room 2 with you and put into a locker or throw away.

Step 8: Go into room 2 and take a bin. In the bin, put your shoes, your purse and all your outer wear - jacket, hat, jewelry if you have any on, etc. Give the index card to the very nice bald man. MAKE SURE YOU PUT IT INTO HIS HAND!

Step 9: Walk through the metal detector. Get your bin when it comes through the conveyor, carry it over to a locker and put your stuff away. Choose wisely. Most of them are broken and will steal your quarter. #13 and #104 are both good. The only thing you can bring into the visiting area with you is your locker key, so leave EVERYTHING ELSE in the locker. When you stick the key in, it spits your quarter back out. So, if you want to read a book while you wait or have money for snacks in the snack machine, you can have them, and then when your name is called, you can just put them back into your locker and put the quarter back in again. But you'll save time if you just sit empty handed and watch Jerry Springer, which is always what is on.

Step 10: Take a seat and wait in your chair for a long-ass time - perhaps an hour, maybe two if it's very crowded, the inmate is "not ready" for some reason (perhaps they're takin' a poop), or it's simply not your lucky day.

Step 11: Watch the craziness that ensues around the waiting room. There are always colorful, entertaining black ladies telling funny stories, crazy hair-dos to examine, and drama that unfolds. It's always fun to watch everyone watch Jerry Springer, because it turns into a full room discussion with TV talk back, such as, "If that was me..." diatribes and a lot of "Oh, hell no, girl!" comments.
So far in the waiting room, I've seen a crack head hit on a trio of girls who in return, asked him if he had any money, so he explained that he had at least $200 in food stamps on his EBT card; I've seen a lady take her fancy fake hair-do out because she kept setting off the metal detector, when it turned out she just had some random piece of metal on the back of her pants; I've seen one poor devastated girl get told by a guard after waiting an hour plus to see her man that he had refused her visit (there were a lot of both, "If that was me"'s AND "Oh, hell, no girl"'s on that one). Sometimes people will ask you questions because there are no instructions posted anywhere, and you just have to figure the system out by doing or asking or both.

Step 12: After waiting at least an hour (less only if you are very lucky), the guard will read the inmate's names off a stack of index cards. Maybe one of them will be the person you came to visit, so pay attention. When they call your name, put everything but your key into your locker and hurry your ass into line.

Step 13: Take off your shoes, put your key in a shoe and wait for the guard to give you the signal. At her signal, walk up to the Star Trek "beam me up" sci-fi looking device, set your shoes to the outside of it to the left around the corner, press the green button on it, wait for the clear door to slide open and step in to it. The door behind you will close and the one in front of you will open. Step out and get your shoes but don't put them on. I asked once what that machine did and was told, "We can't tell you." Why can't they say? Does it fry my internal organs or scramble my brains?

Step 14: The guard will do a search once about five people come into the small search room. She'll make you pull your socks over your ankles, unzip your pants, fold them over and turn around, pull your bra up over your boobs and shake your boobs out, she'll pat your arms, armpits and sides, she'll ask you to show you the inside of your mouth. She'll then stamp your right hand with invisible ink and tell you to take your card. Put your shoes on, put your key in your pocket and take your card.

Step 15: Wait for a million years for the antiquated automated door to slide open. Step into the corridor and wait for that door to close, and then the other antiquated automated door on the other side to open. This could take 5 minutes or 1 minute, depending on who knows what?

Step 16: Hold both hands up underneath the black light so the guard can see both your stamps side by side. (Very sci fi!) Hand the index card to the second guard, who will point you to a table to sit at. Go sit at it and wait anywhere from 3-8 minutes for your inmate to come out a separate set of old, rickety automated doors.

Step 17: You can hug them very quickly, for like, 4 seconds when they first come out. You can hold hands. But you can't really do much else. No making out, no hugging through the visit, no intimate contact, no nuzzling, no forehead to forehead pow wow. No funny business, or a guy named Stewart will come over and yell at you in a very calm and intimidating way.

Step 18: Visit for an hour and talk about what you will. Make small talk or try to devise an escape plan.

Step 19: At the end of an hour, Stewart or someone else will call out the inmate's last name. You get one more hug, and then that is the end of that. Sit back down while they go back through the old, rickety doors and wait til the guards tell you to stand up.

Step 20: On your way back out, show both your hands again. Go back through your set of old, rickety sliding doors. Go back through the tiny search room. Go back out into the visitors waiting room. Get your crap out of your locker. Get your quarter back. Go back through the metal detector and out into room 1.

Step 21: Shine your hands again at the black light at the main facility entrance. A man with a key will unlock the door and let you out.

Step 22: Get the hell out of there! Have a new-found appreciation of your freedom! Pay the tan man $5 and get your cellphone back. Go on with your day. Look at your watch. If less than three hours has passed, you did good.


"Ed" Finkerton Humperfield said...

Those procedures sure keep a close eye on the footware. Cops don't trust shoes.

fred s said...

oh my god, I can't believe it all, except it must be so, clearly so. I hope you are fine. this too shall pass

Mark Daley said...

I once knew a cop (he was from down south), and he had a pair of shoes steal his wallet. Sketchers, I think he said. You always hear the dark side of shoes...a dirty set of Keds hotwiring a car, a pair of flip-flops picked up for prostitution...but what about the Ecco's and the Rockport's of the world that embezzle? That just slides right under the radar.

neustein said...

ah yes the pokie in on a New York winter day, I remember them well. Hope he is doing ok.

ShaTae Thompson said...

What kind of sneakers can the inmates have

Yours Truly said...

I recall he had those slip on sneakers, black with no laces, almost like boat shoes