A Yankee Jewish Princess in the Orange County Jail
I had to take almost two years to process the experience. It was so surreal and yet the severity of my treatment and surroundings proved that this was no hallucination. I was under arrest. But I want to share the story so what actually happened is stated and as an example of finding inspiration in the most unlikely of places.
It all started on October 13th of 2014. I had just returned home from the hospital and was on strong medication. It’s known to change personalities. It turns me into a raging bitch. I’ve learned and grown and I truly do believe in doing things because they need getting done, but I have a bad temper and my own bookrack of anger issues. I blew my wad on my husband and verbally viciously cut into him about every resentment I had built up. We had a wicked fight that kept escalating. My PTSD got activated and I went into the flight or fight response and I didn’t want anyone getting hurt, so I called the police to help calm the situation.
This one simple action changed my entire life because I can no longer view police as my underpaid heroes. And I was given a crash course in what real deprivation and intimidation felt like and the damage it does.
When the police arrived, I let them in. I told them what was going on and they asked me a few questions. Then they separately asked my husband a few questions and our stories matched. We were both still enraged. Then one of the cops noticed two large prescription viles on my counter. He picked them up and looked at them, I had been discharged with 120 8mg Dilaudid pills and 80 2mg xanax.
Then these men that were supposed to protect and serve turned on me. I reminded them that I had left the hospital only a day before and that it was for the month. And I had a small vile with two pills in my pocket. I explained it was so I knew if I had taken my pills yet or not because I’m that knocked out. They refused to believe that I was legit. If I had that many pills, I must be a drug dealer. However, because the files did have my name on them and were legally obtained, they booked me on domestic battery because “I had grabbed my husbands phone out of his hands.” Seth protested and offered to go instead, that I was really sick. They didn’t care at all. They arrested me without Miranda Rights being read. And I was naive enough to ask the officer why he didn’t say it. As I learned, apparently in the state of Florida, Miranda is only read for a charge involving a death.
Without boasting about it, I am a great talker. I can be very persuasive and if I’m driving for a yes rarely get a no. As I was placed in the back of the police car, I began to have a panic attack. I pleaded with the guy to at least take me back to the hospital. That they would back me up and I shouldn’t be at the county facility. He refused and told me that this was all about the dilaudid and no patient takes those dosages. Unfortunately, sometimes I do. I even tried explaining that I’ll go into full withdrawal and it could kill me. Still nothing. All he said was, “No matter what you tell me, I’m taking you to the jail. Is there a radio station you want to listen to?” I was gobsmacked.
During my transition from supervisor to supervisor, I asked for my phone call. My criminal attorney is really good and luckily, I’ve never needed to use him. But they wouldn’t let me call him, or anyone or speak to the nurse. They said they were putting me into medical supervision so someone will keep an eye on me. Then I was led into a tiny concrete cell that was like a meat locker it was so cold. I pleaded again to please let me speak to a medical professional. Again I was put off and told that when they round, they’ll check on me.
Then I heard that sound people describe. The door closing hit my panic button but also hit me with something I had never felt before. Since no one would communicate with me, I was rendered helpless, truly helpless. I pulled my knees up into my smock top they put me in. I pulled my arms inside and hugged my knees with my head down, and tried to calm myself down.
Every hour or so, one of the officers walks by the concrete doors and glanced in. I was waiting and kept asking for medical help and my call. Hour after hour after hour, they ignored me. I looked at the camera trained on the area and gestured clearly that I need medical assistance. And I was in full scale narcotic and benzodiazepine withdrawl. God it hurt. I kept hearing old School House Rock songs in my head and knew in that moment that this was the universe smacking me upside the head. I talk and write and film about people who’ve gown up primarily deprived. Not knowing if food, home or parents were yours from day to day. This was the only way I could ever know first hand or claim to ‘get it’. I had no idea what it is like. A world that didn’t bend to my assertions nor cared if I was safe. Wow. It was a big revelation.
Meanwhile, my husband is at the jail, demanding to know where I am and that this is a huge, potentially fatal mistake. All they would tell him is that I was in a medical supervision unit and my arraignment could be anytime from then til noon the next day. He began to pool resources quietly to see who knew who in our network who may be able to help.
A lot of time had gone by but, aside from putting another woman in the room with me and refusing me water, nobody said anything. I asked when can I bail out. They said after you appear in court. I asked when I was appearing in court. They said they didn’t know. On and on. Until about one o’clock the next afternoon when all the cells were opened and we were led out into a line. I just stayed quiet and did what they told me. I knew they had to let me consult with council before arraignment. A lawyer is an educated, rational being. Surely they would understand, I’m obviously in the wrong place.
That was a bust. I got about 5 minutes of a 20-something’s obviously overwhelmed time. I gave her the real short version. There was no bond placed on me, so I should be able to just appear and leave. She asked if my husband would be there. I told her I had been denied my call and had no idea where he was. We were actually both cited but in Florida, only one party must be arrested in a domestic disturbance and it is at the officer’s discrestion. I was spinning from withdrawing. When I got in front of the judge, I truly felt faint. The lawyer did nothing to help me nor advocate for the ridiculous unwarranted arrest. He put bond of 500 on me and they moved me out of the courthouse. I couldn’t speak. I knew Seth was coming for me and that whatever it took, I would be out shortly. But until then, I was the newest star of Orange is the New Black.
They put us shackled into a van. I asked what was happening and one of the women told me that we were being transferred from the jail into the correctional facility. That hit me like an icicle of fear. I’ve never even gone camping and I’m going where…? Then one of the girls asked if I had my strip search yet. I shook my head no. Oh no.
We were led into the facility and unhinged from eachother. Two girls who knew eachother said hello. I heard one ask the other where her kids were and she said social services. It gave me the chills. I’m getting a back stage tour of what causes the need for the foster care system and implementation of programs to help these people.
One at a time, we had to walk into a room and undress with an officer watching. Then I was asked to crouch down and cough. I didn’t think about it, I just did it and got on with the process. At each interval, I kept asking for my constitutional right to a phone call and council of my choice. They would laugh and shove me along.
Finally I arrived at our destination, dorm C of the Orange County Correctional Facility. I was never as grateful that I have my Jersey armor vibe. Nobody approached me and when I got inside I saw a bank of payphones. Yes! Finally. I asked a group of black ladies having a bible discussion group how I used the phone and I was told I needed a calling card number. That can only be obtained by someone on the outside opening an account for you and it takes days. So I asked politely if I may use someone’s number for a local call. A younger girl, maybe 17, came over and showed me how to use the phone and allowed me to borrow her calling number. It didn’t work. Since I couldn’t reach anybody, I went to go lay down on my metal bed and try to meditate.
A loud sound went off and everybody went to go line up. It was dinner or rather, what they called dinner. It was inedible, gave no nutritional considerations and they were scarfing it down. I’ve been hungry many times because sometimes when my stomach acts up, I can’t get myself to eat. This is what hunger truly looked like. I watched in a kind of awe as girls at my table saw I wasn’t eating asked for different items on my tray. I gave them over gladly. As we sat there, everybody was looking at me kind of funny but not angrily. One finally asked me what I was doing there and I explained the dick cop and the misunderstanding and that I can’t reach my husband but he’s finding me and getting me out in the next couple of hours.
They asked what did and I told them that primarily, I am a writer. At least five young voices blurted out, “I write!” A discussion began where I quickly found myself holding court for a large roundtable of women who were hanging on my every word. Again, the universe was showing me my path. If you can help someone, do it.
This was right after we got the initial anonymous 9000 Indiegogo money, so I told them about group fundraising. And selling poetry online to greeting card companies and to google whatever it is they want to do. The 20 year old kid next to me asked, “What’s Google?” She had been raised in foster care and never had access to an internet enabled computer. I broke it down to the very basics for them. I told them not to be afraid to be told no, just believe in yourself and keep trying. A young girl across the table began to cry. She said, “You don’t understand how much what you say means. People like you are never kind to people like us. I was born HIV positive, my mama died when I was four. I been bouncing around the system ever since. Everybody tell me and treat me like I’m a piece of shit and I’m fighting back with all my soul that I’m not and God loves me too.”
That rendered me speechless, but I knew she needed some kind of positive re-enforcement. I told her that no, of course she is special and loved and deserved respect. That there are people like me on the outside trying to get as much attention possible to the problems for people like you. I said I was sorry for every person who hadn’t treated them right and begged them to hold onto hope.
The guard called my name. She said the bond was processing but they can’t tell how long it will take. The women were all happy, they wanted me to stay.
One woman who had diabetes and other medical issues told me how they withhold her meds. For no reason, there will be days she is refused her mandated injection. She said that one time it was so bad that she put her foot through the glass in a door just to get to the clinic where they would have her medicine. After she was stable, she spent two weeks in the hole. I just shook my head. I realized how blessed I was to have good doctors. Then a few of the younger women got their notebooks and wrote down the info about search engines and key words and I asked them each to write that they promise not to give up.
It was only about 9:45 but I became overly tired. I lay a cloth across my eyes and tried to get some sleep. Amazingly, within meditating for ten minutes, I was out. Some nights at home are a battle to fall out but I was able to do it under pressure. It was nice to learn that about myself.
At about 12:30am, the guard calls out my name. I popped my head up. She said to get my things and strip the bed. I did. Then she led me and another girl, maybe 16 tops, who I could tell was busted for soliciting out to another area. I heard her crying to a guard about her baby and she has to get out. They were kind to her, but treated me like we got us a pretty little white girl. Let’s be as rough on her as we can. There is definitely a passive aggressive sub-culture going on amongst the employees.
They led me to a place to sign for my home clothes and then made me wait for another hour for paperwork. By the time I was released, it was about 2am on the anniversary of the day my mom died, October 15. I knew Seth had to be at home with our son so I grabbed a cab.
After catching up on some sleep, I went back to the hospital. I told them to test me for everything and I mean everything. The infection in my gut had gotten worse and I contracted Influenza A. I spent the next three weeks in patient, getting IV antibiotics and having waves that went from incredulity to ranting about how wrong what’s happening is to complete sobbing panic attacks. It was awful. I called a lawyer friend who is well connected and told him what had happened. He told me to relax and give him a few hours. I got a call shortly after that I was un-arrested and can have my record expunged since there are no priors at all. I thanked him profusely and again, felt gratitude for having someone to call and sadness for the people who have nobody.
I came away from this experience with a healthy dose of fear of the police, a better understanding of how the system is breeding and training many to depend upon and obey the system, luck for getting a first hand experience that hit home the point of what Kindred is for and why it was gifted to me. Lastly, it gave me hope. Most of these women and girls want to educate themselves and rise above their station but don’t have the first clue how. We are wasting some amazing talent and genius behind the eyes that deaden as one locks themselves within themselves. We are wasting American children and teaching them the only way they can achieve is to find a route through the thorn laden forest.
So, as I’ve said so often, we need all of you because they need all of you. Whistle Hi-Ho and bring your axe because this thicket is coming down.