I remember the day I went to jail.I actually went the night before. I was in a park about five minutes before closing time, and the cops told me to leave. I had a lot of stuff with me -my bedding, and two suitcases. One of the suitcases was really a trunk. That one had the majority of my clothes in it. The other one had my papers like my birth certificate, a novel I had been working on for three years, my pictures and letters I thought were important, and my electronic stuff, such as my radio and a phone out of minutes for the moment.
Anyway, the cops told me to leave the park, about four of them, so I dragged one suitcase to the edge of the park and I was walking back to get the other one when three cars surrounded me jumped out and arrested me. Trespassing, they said and failure to obey a verbal command. “We told you to leave,” one of them said. “You know the park closes at eleven”.
I must confess I didn’t think much of the cops in those days. Homelessness and the police didn’t mix then, and still doesn’t. I tried to explain that I was going back to get the rest of my property and they just shrugged.”You got too much stuff anyways.” One of them said.”And we’re not about to tear the paperwork up.”
“Let’s go to jail then.” I said.”Think I’m not going to be out tomorrow? Think the judge is going to sentence me to a job and a house? I’m going to report you guys for wasting gas!”
That took a bit of the sting out of them and I smiled inwardly. They cuffed me so tight that my hands were asleep by the time we got to the jail.
The next morning we lined up and marched to court. The guy in front of me had thrown fuel on his girlfriend and tried to light it. The guy behind me had shot up some guy’s mother’s house because she said he wasn’t there and he called her a liar. When she slammed the door in his face, he sprayed the house with bullets. It was too late to run away so he tried to walk. Didn’t work. Only the weapon charge so far.
Everybody laughed when I told my story, even the judge.”Next case!” he said.
It’s a video court here in Pinellas County. I heard someone off the screen ask the judge what he was going to do with me. The judge had to restrain himself from yelling “You people don’t know what to do with him! Yet you bring him to me.” I had sat down at that time. “Mr Rolle.” I scurried back to the podium.”Mr Rolle” the judge said, “Please go away. Case dismissed.”.
They claimed that they didn’t have bus passes and I didn’t have any money so I had to walk the fourteen miles back downtown. One of my buds shared the walk with me. He had been arrested for failure to appear to answer an open container charge. They had caught him trying to down a quart in an alley “Hid pretty good” as he put it, and ran his name. Five days in the clink.”Wouldn’t have been so bad if they had let me finish it.,” he said.
We busied ourselves on our walk by trying to match the people who disappeared to the ones we had seen in jail. We got them all but one. We talked about how hard it was to be homeless in a town where you were not welcomed. We talked about a certain service provider that invited the police in when they served lunch and how the cops would do warrant checks on the names as they were signed, a requirement for eating.
For the first time since my arrest, I allowed myself to think about my stuff. We were walking silent for a bit, and I thought back to who had seen me cuffed. I recalled three people standing watching from the edge of the park. Two, a couple, I had seen around but didn’t know. I knew the third guy but didn’t trust him. I hoped that somebody was decent enough to take my bags over to my friends across the street where I slept. I figured that was stretching it though. For the last couple of miles, my steps were filled with dread.
As we approached the park, the first thing I saw was my trunk. It was opened and leaned against a garbage can. Most of my clothes were gone, though three of my tee shirts had been left in the trash. My bedding was long gone. I’d find my personal suitcase three days later, void of all memories, creative pursuits and electronic equipment. I had to have a drink. I walked across the street from the park to the store and credited a four pack of Natural Ice and a 32 ounce cup. I had a good relationship with the store owner .He let me fill the cup in the store. I say let me, but he just acted as though he didn’t see. I could pretty much credit all up and down the street. I had a good relationship with everyone except the cops.
The cops wanted to be feared by the homeless. They were hated instead. There were so many things you could go to jail for just being homeless. Your every action was illegal in some form. You couldn’t pee, you couldn’t sit under a tree and read a book, you couldn’t sleep anywhere outside. You couldn’t be anywhere outside. The homeless were constantly be given marching orders by the police. Persecution transforms fear to hatred.
In the store, I poured two cans of beer in the cup, and put the other two in my pocket. It was almost winter then and pretty chilly. I knew that I couldn’t sleep without bedding. I crossed the park diagonally, like one slices a sandwich. I really didn’t care about getting caught. I knew I could down the cup, before they came on me, but in the park they would take me for possession of alcohol. I knew that because I had been busted for that before. When everything that you do is pretty much illegal, even down to eating, jail loses its sting. It comes to represent a firm food schedule and a long walk home. I wasn’t afraid of jail. I just wanted to perform a small act of defiance, without getting caught.
After making it through the park unscathed, I walked a block and a half down the street to what we called “The Gated Community”. The community was a row of abandoned townhouses. Some of the apartments even had the furniture still in them. The homeless moved in, but everyone wasn’t allowed to stay there. I was.
I started to walk towards the hole in the fence when I heard myself being hailed by a harsh whispered hiss. I looked towards the direction of the sound and saw someone frantically waving from the bushes. I recognized him, and crouch walked over to the bush. It was Kentucky Bob. He was the leader of the squat house. I joined him crouching in the bush.
“Is that beer?” he asked, pointing at the cup. I took one of the cans from my pocket and handed it to him.”What’s up?” I asked. “There are about six cop cars on the front lawn. Everybody’s getting busted for trespassing. I was lucky”. “What to do?” I asked. He shrugged. “Find a piece of cardboard and come back tomorrow. There are a couple of blankets in that dumpster”.
We got the blankets and left the area. Every cop car that passed us had to people cuffed in the backseat.
We went to the store and got more beer. Kay Bob, as we called him, informed me that I had lost my steady ticket at the labor pool by not showing up. “This is a loser’s game.” I said “We don’t win much out here”.
I was trying to show that I didn’t care. I don’t know if I fooled anyone. I know I didn’t buy it.
I offered Kay Bob an envious glance as he drifted off to sleep. Although I hadn’t slept during the jail thing, I wasn’t numb enough yet. I sat hidden against the wall and shot gunned three of the beers.
I folded one of the blankets for a pillow and covered myself with the other one. The faint smell of urine arrested my nostrils. I shook it off and tried to drift away, numb and sufficiently breathless.
My last thoughts were of the homeless dragged away from the abandoned gated community. I wished them well. I hoped they got the same judge as me…