I spent two days in a New York jail cell with 15 other criminals
They called me ‘nigger’ ever though I’m white
I’d heard American jails were ugly, but I didn’t realize just how nasty the cells would be. As I headed down the long corridor of an American police station, I drew closer to the cage where I would spend the next 36 hours.
It was bullshit that I ended up there in the first place. I was taking the New York subway home after a night out when I saw a guy get arrested for jumping the barriers without a ticket. The police were beating him up so I intervened. When they told me to step away, I replied “It’s a free fucking country”. Lesson learned – never swear at an American cop. We had a scuffle on the floor but there were three of them, armed with pepper spray.
Soon I was in the back of a police car with the idiot I was trying to defend. He was crying because he was a male model and thought he’d lose his job. He blamed me for “making things worse”. I can’t believe I wasted my time defending someone so ungrateful.
They took me to a cell on my own for a bit but then I got dragged down to this holding cell. It was just like the ones on that Louis Theroux documentary, though admittedly there weren’t any murderers. It was absolutely filthy though, and there was peanut butter all over the walls (the only food you get there is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches).
They asked me if I wanted to use the toilet, and I said no. I immediately regretted this when I reached the cell and realized I needed to take a shit. The toilet inside the cell was filthy and had to be used in full view of the 15 other people in there. I held on. Most of the guys in the cell were petty criminals in for fairly minor offences. Almost everyone was black. They were all pretty friendly and greeted me with “what you in for nigga?” When they heard my accent they nicknamed me ‘English’.
Some of them were kids who were obviously quite excited about being in jail and were really chatty. There were a couple of 17 year olds who were talking to everyone and making their stories sound crazier than they probably were. The older guys were nice to them – I think they kind of liked being the wiser ones who had been there before. There was definitely a feeling among everyone that despite how shit things were, there was something sort of impressive about being in jail.
It wasn’t all friendly though. There were some big egos, a lot of people strutting around. As it got closer to the night, they brought this huge guy in with some frightening tattoos. He was covered in blood and word got round that he had stabbed someone. Everyone gave him a wide berth, which was difficult in a small room. Suddenly he lay on the floor and started smacking his head against it until he was bleeding. We were all huddled in one corner shouting for the guard while he just went mental. They took him away.
The worst thing about being ‘inside’ is the boredom. There’s nothing to do except sit there and think, or just observe the over-excited kids. I did enjoy the people-watching. There was one geeky, asian guy who’d been busted doing Crystal Meth in his car and he was clearly not happy. He was absolutely buzzing and couldn’t stop pacing around. When night came it was hard to sleep. There were benches around the edges of the room and everyone wanted to sleep on them instead of on the cold, dirty floor. I lay down on a bench, using my peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a pillow (there were loads of them) and tried to squeeze in behind another guy but I put my feet on his head by accident. He wasn’t happy and shouted at me so after that I had to sit upright.
I was also seriously hungover – I’d been arrested at 5am and spent another day and night in a horrible cell. I was waiting for my number to be called for ages so I could see a lawyer and go through courtbut it took ages.
Around 36 hours after I was arrested, they took me to court and the lawyer advised me to take a small felony and pay the 200 dollar fine. I was relived to get out, but I still thought it was bullshit that I had to accept this.
The whole episode left me with some very bad handcuff marks and a lesson in how to talk to American police. They say people leave jail with more criminal habits than when they go in. I don’t think that happened to me – the only lasting habit I left with was a taste for peanut butter and jelly.