No, Chilean policía haven’t locked me up and thrown away the key. It’s story time! Inquiring family & friends wanted to know more about my aforementioned night in NYC jails… here’s your fix.
It was a cold Saturday night in Greenwich Village, winter of 1999. (I was nineteen.) At approximately 1:15am, three friends and I challenged our hibernation instincts by leaving our toasty dorm building on Washington Square Park to go outside and smoke a joint.
It’s worth noting that never before in my life had I ever rolled a marijuana cigarette, but this fateful night I indeed created up a conical salad of three different varieties, one from each of my friends, for my grand debut. It was beautiful, came out just right on my very first try! It’s also worth noting that none of the green was mine, as I couldn’t afford it. I never had any of my own to contribute on my meager $20/week allowance, which I usually spent on Thursday nights for a bottle of hooch from the only [Chinese] liquor store that would sell to college kids, plus a slice of pizza, sans beverage.
On our way out, on the ground floor, we passed the dining hall and stumbled upon tomorrow’s bread delivery, from which we snagged a couple bagels for later. (Munchies:)
A nod to our security guard, Padilla, and we were out. Despite it being a chilly winter night, for a weekend night in the village, nobody was out. We perched on the park fence, lit up and passed my baby around. As soon as the last of us took our first drag, a female voice rang out “drop the joint!” Ambushed.
A dodgy maroon van appeared from around the corner with concealed lights flashing, and two additional plain-clothes police officers joined the posse. The contents of our pockets were emptied and collected into manilla envelopes, and we were walked to just behind NYU’s Bobst Library, where a paddy-wagon was waiting, without driver. Sitting in the back seat for 10 minutes, I got antsy and fiddled around in a milk crate of papers on the seat which actually contained a holster and pistol. My friends said “put that down!” And it was true: I was having too much fun already.
One of the rookie cops eventually noticed my riffling and took the gun away. Shucks! What else do you expect me to do!? Let’s get this how on the road! Eventually two more criminals were escorted into the van and we were on our way to the Thirteenth (West Village) Precinct police station.
My friends were two girls and one guy. We were separated and searched by an officer with a very aggressive mullet. I couldn’t help but smile, with lyrics of Wesley Willis’ musical masterpiece Cut the Mullet singing in my mind. When he asked if I had anything in my pockets, I replied No (answering to the best of my half-witted knowledge). Upon being patted-down, he found a bagel in the front pocket of my smiley mushroom “fungi to be with” hoodie-sweatshirt. I laughed and said I didn’t remember it was there, which aggravated him. “You think this is funny?” He proceeded to smack me across the face repeatedly with the bagel, my primary concern being whether or not I could keep the offending item.
The girls were put into one cell, my male buddy and I split-up. He, unfortunately, was strip-searched. I was spared this new horizon, and thrown into a 5’x7′ cell with two black men, one a Rastafarian who just cut off his dreads and was quite talkative and festive despite our predicament; the other guy sat intensely and didn’t say a word the whole time.
The girls, I learned afterwards, were permitted to leave their cell and use the bathroom. I, however, had a stainless-steel toilet with no rim in our comfy (cold concrete) quarters, mere inches from the strong silent guy. (Don’t think I used it, for fear of missing.) I crouched against the wall and spoke with Rasta-man ’till daybreak.
Although they got to leave their cell and talk to each other, the girls had another imprisoning force acting upon them: Time. Shackled by a single wristwatch, they were all too painfully aware of the long hours we spent in there. I believe that time is a prison unto itself, which steals us from the present moment and puts us in another time, relatively, like being late for some time that has passed or waiting for the future. My mantra keeps me here, which is always where I am meant to be: I am right here.
Many long hours passed… when I pressed up to the bars I could see through a tiny window on the far wall the dull blue light of morning. Soon I would be missing my degree-focused Sight and Sound Video Class, perhaps my first absence in a year-and-a-half of fIlm school. (After once calculating that a single NYU lecture cost over $300 apiece, I’d be damned to skip or sleep through a single class!)
Not soon enough, El Mullet came, unlocked the cell,
daisy-chained ten of us up together in cuffs, stuffed us into the paddy-wagon, and took us on a joy-ride downtown to Central Booking. This was one of the most enjoyable parts; the whole lot of us 13th precinct captures were harmless, mostly brought in on charges of substance abuse, (just a bunch of lively crack-heads, small-time dealers, and dumb-asses caught on possession). Excited about our monotony-breaking move, our band of misdemeanor offenders couldn’t be more cheerful.
I felt like a celebrity, being escorted into our fair city’s central repository for all of last night’s illicit action. Everybody had to talk to us four good-looking teens, including all the officers of the city’s hundreds of precincts. “What did you kids do to get in here?” When we told them we were busted smoking a joint, they said in disbelief that they wouldn’t have arrested us for such a minor offense in their jurisdictions, where real crime happens!
Next we were finger-printed and had mug-shots taken. Some malfunction of the camera prompted me to try and help out, with my tech savvy and film-school familiarity of a variety of equipment. I was put back in line.
Unappetizing brown bologna on wonder-bread was served. Eventually I was led to a room where I met my state-appointed attorney, took his business card, and was debriefed on what would happen next. As a first-time offender I would be let off on probation. As long as I didn’t have a repeat-offense in the next 2 years, this incident would be (officially) wiped from my record! No fines, no community service, no calls to my parents or school. Thank goodness, that’s all I needed to know ‐ Hooray for being an adult! (Wink, wink, Mom and Dad!)
I was led into a nice courtroom, the judge and my lawyer did all the talking, and next thing I knew I was being un-cuffed, my belongings from the manila envelope were handed to me, and I was bounding freely down the rear steps of New York City’s Supreme Court into Chinatown.
My friends came right behind me, and we walked as free men and women back towards NYU campus. The whole ordeal took 14 hours. It was weird to see daylight. We hadn’t slept, but it felt euphoric. I knew something was different now: I was hard as fuck! Bring it on, you can’t mess with us now!
When we got back home to Washington Square just before dusk, I saw my dreadlocked professor Marco Williams crossing the park. He asked me why I wasn’t in class, and I said You’ll never guess. Incredulously, he actually guessed right! (He must have sensed our sweet air of emancipation.) Eerie!
Later that evening, there was an event in the campus sports complex. My jail-buddy and I headed over and partook in various
American-Gladiator style games. We battled in sumo suits, donned velcro-outfits and catapulted ourselves onto a giant vertical target, but my defining moment was when we were fighting with giant boxing gloves in a bouncy ring. I was considerably larger than he in size, but for a little guy, when it came to slugging it out, he wiped the floor with me. He floated like a butterfly, his punches came faster, he dodged and bounced out of my fury’s way like it was another full-body cavity search. Lesson learned: as hard as I am, somebody else with more experience will probably still have me licked.
All in all it was an awesome time. I don’t think it was quite so exciting for my friends, but heck, that’s just how I roll. How many of you have had the pleasure? Either way, good for you! It’s all good – I can never express this enough.