If you haven’t yet, please take the time to read Part One. This is a multi-part series. A new chapter of my personal experiences will be posted every Monday and Thursday. Disclosure: If you have any form of PTSD, I do not go into the details of the abuse, but I do describe my time in booking.
I was placed in a wagon, the officers having to buckle me in.
My left hand was numb from the pressure of the cuffs. Being tall, my head kept bouncing into the top of the wagon. With my hands behind my back, I couldn’t catch myself from being jostled. It seemed the driver was purposely rolling roughly into every pothole he could manage. I was sore by the time the vehicle stopped.
In central booking, the female guards don’t care who are, why you’re there or how long it will take to get you out. It was made very clear as I stepped up to the dirty acrylic window. They checked in my belongings, logging away my sweater and sealing it in a bag. I was wearing a bodycon dress, one designed to hug and display my body and with the sweater gone, I felt exposed.
I was ushered into a holding cell with ten other girls. The green cement bench was already full to capacity. One girl was asleep on the floor. Another leaned against the toilet. I opted to stand and peered out the small window, watching.
The guards stood around in clusters, laughing and joking. Ignoring the calls of the girls who were asking for water or blankets. I watched them for two hours before I was pulled to see the nurse. They made me pee in a cup to make sure I wasn’t pregnant or high. And lucky for me and my collapsible veins, the nurse wasn’t confident enough to take any blood and spared me of that test. I was thrown back into another holding cell with different girls. It was clear I was going to be there for a while, so we took the time to get to know one another.
I banded with two girls who were arrested for second-degree assault, and another who was there for attempted murder and fleeing the scene.
Until then, I hadn’t looked at my own charges. First and second-degree assault and four other misdemeanors. I tried to remain calm although the pulse in my neck and wrist were leaping.
They must have seen the look on my face and quickly worked hard to try and convince me that everything was going to be okay. After all, it was my first arrest. The law should be lenient. The four of us sat in one corner of the bench, swapping and reading our warrants, and grimaced at the older women who were withdrawing on the other side of the cell. Another hour later, our holding cell group was moved to another holding cell to wait our turn with the commissioner.
And we were led past the male holding cells.
Not trying to sound superficial, but I didn’t look like anybody else. I wasn’t an addict and I wasn’t from the streets. My hair fell down to my rear, my makeup was done, and remember, I was in that body con dress. I felt every male eye on me, traveling up and down the length of my person. Some men know how to deliberately make a stare feel insulting. Some men were so used to violence, they could only picture a woman with bruises covering the flesh over their cheekbones, around their wrists. And that negativity quickly swirled around me like black smoke. It stuck to my flesh, my hair and my clothes.
But I had to remain ice. I wouldn’t shatter.
I had to wait another few hours before the commissioner saw me. I thought I could finally plead my case. Tell them how wrong they had it. I didn’t belong there; I was the victim. But the commissioner merely asked me if I wanted to represent myself, hire a private attorney or have one supplied to me.
I went with the final choice and was led back to the holding cell, frustration starting to harden my jaw.
I still had to wait to see the second commissioner. By this time, it was six in the evening. I had been sitting in a cell for about five hours. A male prisoner brought me a brown bag of food. Inside was a bruised apple, a smushed sandwich with one slice of artificial bologna, and a carton of milk. When I refused to eat it, one of the high girls asked for it and I gave it willingly.
As we waited for the rest of the girls to see the commissioner, Attempted Murder girl began to weep. She had a one month baby at home and was, of course, missing him. She knew it was going to be a long time before she saw him again. It had taken her eleven hours just to see the first commissioner. Fear spread quickly around the cell. And in a move that both moved and surprised me, we linked hands and muttered a small prayer.
“May this go in our favor, may we get out of this without debt, and may we see our loved ones soon.”
Again, we were moved to another holding cell. Inside, it was only about fifty degrees. My teeth were chattering and my hands were shaking. The hours moved slower than I had ever experienced. The old withdrawing women started moaning in pain, denying any of us the right to relax or sleep. There were eight of us in the cell, and regardless of the outbursts, all of them linked together in the corner, desperate for warmth. I purposely sat underneath the air vent, reveling in the ice cold air.
I was pulled out another hour later to finally be fingerprinted and have my mugshot taken. As I waited for the guard to clean my fingertips, she asked me if I had hurt him as much as he did me. I looked up and wondered how she knew. How could she see it so easily?
“I had a knife, but I didn’t touch him,” I replied flatly.
“Honey. If you’re going to go to jail anyway, next time you make sure you cut him.” She tucked a hair behind my ear, a tender gesture, and scanned my fingerprints into their database.
A male guard strolled through the office and stopped mid bustle when he spotted me. He watched me a couple of moments and asked, “Whatchya in here for, baby girl?”
“I used a knife to protect myself from my husband,” I replied, just as flatly as before.
“He out there?” he asked, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder where I could see a line of men in handcuffs. “I’ll show him a rough time.”
I shook my head. “He pressed charges today, but the fight happened two months ago.”
He told me I was going to be fine, as I hadn’t been arrested before. And on his way out, he muttered, “He a punk-ass bitch.” I actually smirked.
I was not one of them. I didn’t belong. I returned to my cell and again I refused to snuggle with them in the corner. I sat under the vent and tucked my arms and knees into my dress. After more time had passed, I asked a guard for the time. Four in the morning. My eyes were getting heavy.
I couldn’t deny it any longer. I was going to spend the night in a cell.
Domestic violence is all around you, even if you can’t see it. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience physical violence in their lifetime. If you’re being abused and don’t have the support you deserve, call the hotline where trained advocates will give you the advice you need. You’re not alone. For more information, visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline website here.
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And as always, thanks for reading – Dani