Joshua David Lacy
Withdrawals on a Jailhouse Floor
He spent the whole month of August, the summer prior to getting arrested, calling every rehab in a 250 mile radius, but they all judged he wasn’t economically worth saving, being denied everywhere he applied. He figured he would live fast and die young in a blaze of glory, though being a romantic at heart, he couldn’t justify the violence of blowing his brains out. He was going to die with a head full of drugs and a liver full of whiskey and wine.
He hit rock bottom shortly afterward.
He had a friend that introduced him to heroin. He started snorting a yellowish-brown powder. Definitely not something that looked approved by the FDA. He actually hated the high, but being a cheap bastard, he liked how such a small quantity fucked him up for so long. He did the math and figured he was spending about $5 per 12 hours of intoxication, or $0.41 per hour. At that rate, he could be dead forever.
* * * * *
The cop that put me against the hood had a USMC tattoo on his forearm. He was more gentle than most cops I’ve ever dealt with, probably because right when I knew I was fucked, I gave him the drugs without fighting. I’m sure he appreciated that. The orange bottle full of dull yellow Norcos and white Xanax bars were in my front right pocket, the weed in my left front pocket, and the Morphine patches fit snug against my wallet in my back pocket. It’s not like they were elaborately hidden in a secret compartment or anything.
I was searched right in front of my house. My girlfriend watched as they piled the drugs up. All the neighbors came to watch, as that loud kid who’s always breaking shit or spray painting the word ‘fuck’ on everything he owned or sitting on his lawn wearing nothing but pool floaties screaming at the sky for the next great deluge, was put in handcuffs. They must have slept very soundly that night knowing such a menace was locked away.
The second cop grabbed me by the elbow and led me to the car. I spied a cross dangling below the globs of fat on his neck. “Do you think Jesus would approve of this? Jesus’ best friends were drunks and prostitutes, you think he’d approve of you arresting your fellow man just looking to get a little high?”
The USMC cop waved his hand over the score on the top of their patrol car, “A little high?”
I continued pleading with the Christian cop, trying to appeal to his religious principles, a trick I learned from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book I’d read not a week before in effort to be a better poker player.
The USMC cop called his buddy over while I sat in the back of the cop car listening to the terrible buttrock of one of our local radio stations and the garbled language of the walkie-talkie. Christian cop grabbed me by my elbow again and yanked me from the car. USMC cop had my cell phone in his hand, scrolling through the thousands of incriminating text messages I never deleted because I’m a fucking idiot. Texts to and from my supplier, texts to and from my customers, dating months back, dealing with every drug known on the greater west side of California. I was fucked.
I turned my persuasion laser onto USMC cop. “Come on man, that goes against my constitutional rights,” I said, knowing nothing about constitutional rights. “I thought this was America, not Soviet Russia. It’s illegal for you to go through my phone.”
The cops then explained, in thorough detail, what the Patriot Act was and how, basically, it gave them permission to do whatever the fuck they want under the grounds of suspicion. Plus, USMC cop added, he barely touched my phone and it opened right up to my texts.
He was right. I turned the lockpad feature off because it got annoying when I was seeing doubles of everything. Do I need to reinforce the fact that I’m an idiot?
“Look, just take the drugs and let me go, okay? I’m already home, you can just say you found it in an alleyway or something. That’s like five, six hundred bucks, easy.”
“Are you trying to bribe an officer of the law?” Christian cop asked.
I didn’t look at him. I was looking at USMC cop. He was a young guy with a bird-like face, sharp narrow nose and focused eyes. I knew those eyes. He was a gambler, and this was high-stakes poker. If I could needle him a little more, I could get him to walk over the ledge. I was going all in.
“You don’t need me. That’s seven hundred bucks in your pocket if you just let me go. I live right here, you can just uncuff me and—”
Christian cop tossed me into the backseat. I slid face first across the leathery plastic, tasting the ass of everyone who’s ever sat back there. Fucking squares.
The officers conversed outside the car while I repositioned myself; their voices drowned out by Nickelback. Christian cop opened the door and yanked me out again.
“Look,” Christian cop said, “We’ll let you go—”
My eyes shot up faster than a junkie on welfare check day. “Tight!” I yelled, turning around to let them take the cuffs off my wrists.
“—If,” USMC cop continued, “You tell us about the guns.”
The fuck? I thought.
“The fuck?” I said. “Guns?”
“Who in here has the guns?” Christian cop asked, speaking of the gated community/trailer park I was living in. I only knew a few others that lived here. I did know a guy with a gun that lived a couple streets down, but he was a seventy-five-year-old parolee weed grower just trying to make a living.
“I can tell you who speeds in here,” I said. “And, I’m pretty sure the guy across the street is a pedophile. I have no evidence for this, he’s just creepy as fuck.”
Not taking my testimony seriously, they tossed me back in the cab where I was delighted with the music of Creed while I waited for the paddy wagon to take me away.
* * * * *
While his friends just stopped using drugs and got an education or good jobs, he fell into a spiral of depression, exacerbated by drugs. Pills were always underlying every decision. The crack of the pill between his teeth, the acidic taste as the chemicals ate away at his mouth, the nausea, the cravings, the need, it all became too much. He couldn’t quit.
Then he decided to just kill himself.
* * * * *
After the fingerprinting, the questions, the blood samples, and anal cavity inspection, I’m led to a concrete room. This is the holding room, the place inmates stay while the system determines what to do with us. Minor offenders—the publicly intoxicated, the trespassers, the potheads—are all let out after spending a couple hours here. The rest of us stewed in the cramped room while our fates were being determined by old men of privilege, most of whom had never known strife or misery on the level we did on a daily basis. We were the left-behinds, the hustlers, the sparrows, the freaks, the loons, the ones who fell through the cracks, the cancerous poor coming to rape your wife and steal your possessions, leaving you like us: penniless, empty, broke.
The room was full when I was thrown in. Bodies packed far past the limit for fire code. It was rectangle-shaped with one chest-high wall hiding a steel shitter so overflowed with human waste it looked like something from a third world country. The smell of feces faded eventually, giving way to the smells of flesh. Body odor and the alcoholic stench of rotting fruit seeped through the pores of the ones sleeping off benders, in which they did terrible things that they would regret the next day.
There were three phones on the wall, but two of them were adorned with Out of Order signs. The one working phone was being used by a scrawny kid. Avoiding eye contact with the room, he screamed bail, despite the fact he was only in there on a trespassing charge. Another dude was squatting over the toilet, adding to the great pile of human disgust. Multiple people were sleeping, or feigning sleep, in overlapping piles, on the benches, on the floor, one guy while standing. It was all very picturesque, like something from a Dorothea Lange catalog. I found a small space to put my back against the wall.
My muscles were clenched tight. I was grinding my jaw involuntarily. My bones felt like they were on the verge of simultaneously snapping and stepping out of my skin. I wanted to get high so bad. Why didn’t I chew up a handful in the car before I got arrested? I asked myself.
My ears perked up at every mention of drugs, even though ninety percent of the users here were in for meth. It wasn’t my jam, but any port in a storm, eh? I would’ve shot up jet fuel mixed with pond scum if it would have stopped the headache coming on.
Every time the cops walked a female inmate past us to bring her to the ladies holding cell, the room erupted with whistles and catcalls; some of the women were ashamed, others relished in the attention. No doubt these would be the last women some of them would see for years.
In a letter from Folsom State Penitentiary, my brother, inmate 65-43223, the white supremacist with so much hate in him it seethes from his skin in the form of tattooed symbols—swastikas, lightning bolts, abstract words such as pride and heritage—told me that when I get locked up, the first thing I had to do was find my people. It struck me then at eleven-years-old that he was prophesying my criminal future. While my brother’s idea of “my people” was humans with the same skin pigmentation, but my people are anyone who can laugh in a time like this.
I made eye contact with the guy standing next to me. He was a fucking giant, like the dude from The Green Mile. He didn’t look as friendly as John Coffey, but he also didn’t look mean or anything. I smiled and he smiled back. If the bars were as wide as his gapped front teeth, we could have all been home by noon. There were no bars there, everything was state-of-the-art electronic doors controlled by computers, but the line doesn’t work with the truth.
I broke the ice with a bad joke, but it got us talking. I was working at Blockbuster at the time, so I had an extensive knowledge of movies, and John Coffey was a big time western fan. We talked about 3:10 to Yuma, Appaloosa, Tombstone, and every other western that popped into our minds. Once that conversation faded, we started talking about ourselves. I told him my situation, he told me his. John Coffey was a pimp, and his sister was his number one girl; he taught her everything she knew, he said. He was using “that Craigslist Internet thing” to advertise his business. A client contacted him and he drove his sister to the Motel 6 on Madison and I-80, where a dozen sheriffs were waiting for him.
I was starting to feel sick—from the pimp’s story or the lack of drugs, I know not—so I found a corner to lay in and tried getting some sleep.
With my head and arms turtled inside my jacket, I dozed in and out, only waking at the sound of buzzers and alarms. One of the times I opened my eyes, I saw Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas standing over me, dressed not in clean robes, but dirty, torn rags, staring at me, licking his chops. I thought this was a dream and rolled over.
I stayed on the verge of consciousness and sleep, fighting back the urge to throw up, wanting nothing more than to be at home in my soft bed, or even on my knees in front of my own toilet. I poked my head out from my shell, and holy fuck, Clarence Thomas was no more than twelve inches from my face, laying down beside me, staring deep into my soul. His hands were down his pants, and I could smell his sour milk breath. I jerked back, slamming my head against the wall. Some of the inmates laughed, but John Coffey rushed over.
“What the fuck you doin’?” he asked Clarence, “I told you to let homeboy sleep.”
Clarence Thomas looked up at John Coffey with anger. I was scared that I was about to see my first jail fight. Was the place going to erupt in a riot where the inmates take over the jail, handing over lists of demands to exchange for hostages? Fear was overwhelmed by my boiling blood, wanting to beat the shit out of Clarence Thomas myself, despite me being dopesick and Clarence being almost as big as John Coffey himself.
“Go back to your corner,” Coffey told him. I thought Clarence was going to attack, at which point I would jump in and probably just puke all over both of them. After the staredown, homeless Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas limped to the other corner, defeated like a dog whose master had just told it no.
I hobbled over to the toilet and added my own excrement in the form of bile to the ever growing mountain, not caring as it splashed onto my laceless moccasin. Luckily, the guards opened the door and called my name for processing, taking me away from rapist Clarence Thomas and John Coffey, the pimp with the heart of gold.
* * * * *
Eventually, he was kicked out of school for failing to attend. He went every day, just not to his classes. He would show up around break time, see his friends, collect money, then go to the library down the street to read comic books, waiting for one dealer or another to show up at the park next door. Ripping off naïve high schoolers turned into being the middle man for everything: drugs, stolen goods, etc. If you wanted it, he could get it at a discount. All the profit he made went toward getting high.
It got crazy. Parties every night, not sleeping for days at a time, then sleeping for twenty hours straight. A string of toxic relationships came and went, driving him further down the rabbit hole. Seeking fights with random strangers just to feel alive.
Then the party stopped.
* * * * *
“I asked for a King sized bed,” I half yelled at the guard as he directed me into my cell. I was only half cohesive, and somehow vomit had wound up on the front of my new orange onesie. I didn’t know where my clothes went, or how I got into this new garb. Again, I was surprised at how gentle the guard was, helping me to my bunk like a true gentleman. I instantly jumped toward the toilet and retched up nothing but a lifetime of regret. Staring into the metal hole that looked like a larynx, I could see my own reflection, as warped as my insides and head felt. I embraced the cold of the steel as sweat pushed itself out of every pore.
Above the toilet was a splatter of blood. And chunks of hair. My imagination began speculating how it happened, but it was pretty obvious: someone got their head smashed into the wall. I was no blood splatter analyst, but I was well versed in people’s heads slamming against things, so I was fairly confident in my conclusion. Then I began puking up blood, coating the shiny insides of the toilet with a red tinge, making my twisted face look like something from a 1950s horror movie.
I grabbed the blankets from the bunk bed and lay down beside my new friend.
I think the guards knew that I needed to detox, as they only put one other guy in my cell, and it was for a short period of time. He was in for possession of meth, and was in the process of being transferred somewhere else. He gave me his orange, even peeling it for me, and not interrupting when I threw it back up a short time later. Nice guy.
The rest of my stay at Chateau la Jail, however, was spent alone. Time seemed to speed up and stop at the same rate. I would lie on the top bunk and stare out the tiny two by ten inch window at downtown Sacramento, watching the sun rise, wondering what kind of trouble the world was going to cause today. It felt like sunrises lasted an eternity, but then I would lie down and close my eyes. When I opened them again it would be nighttime, and the world was asleep. The guards didn’t bother me, except for meal times, when they would ask for the untouched tray with an apple or orange and turkey or bologna sandwich back. They didn’t even force me to shower, although I probably desperately needed it.
As each minute passed, I began to feel more and more like myself.
* * * * *
He held his personal problems in, not knowing how to express them in constructive ways. He got into fights, physically with his classmates, verbally with his teachers. He was the first kid suspended from his elementary school for carving a swastika on another kid’s desk; a crime he didn’t even commit, but seeing as how he wore the troublemaker moniker with pride, it was stuck on him.
This pattern continued until high school.
By that time, he had already smoked enough weed to be considered an expert by his less-informed friends, been to college parties, and drank enough to warrant a serious heart-to-heart with his best friend about how they were both aware that they were tempting alcoholism and should slow down a bit. This began a long and winding road of experimentation with whatever he could obtain.
On top of the experiments, he was also in therapy, learning to love himself. Just kidding. He was being diagnosed with manic depression, but when he realized the drugs they were giving him for bipolar were making him shit his pants and not care about it, he quickly turned to manipulating his doctors into thinking he had ADHD so he could score Ritalin, a hot item at school. That gave him his first connection.
* * * * *
You feel well enough to stare at the mural of graffiti on the cell walls and truly appreciate it; some of it covered in the blood of the previous occupant, some of it drawn over in bigger, bolder lettering. You marvel at the work: Bible quotes about redemption, inspirational rap lyrics, hate speech, neighborhood shout-outs, a pair of judgmental eyes staring down, swastikas, skulls, a nude brunette with double-D’s sitting on her knees, spread eagle, inviting you in, with her face scratched out with an angry X. You wonder why you weren’t supplied with a pen to add your signature to the wall, and then realize some of these must have been keistered in. The things artists do for their art…
Among the madness is a Gandhi quote. Before you can ponder over what romantic fuck brought Gandhi with him to jail, a mechanical voice screeches your name, telling you there is a visitor.
Is it my lawyer? You ask the empty room, remembering from courtroom television shows that you’re supposed to get one of those. Silence is the only response.
The steel door slides open, exposing the world outside the cell. The first you’ve seen of it in you don’t know how long. Six days? Seven? Eight? The halls are quiet, the recreation area empty, the rats still sleeping in their holes. The morning sun gives the room where people have been beaten, shanked, and killed an innocent glow. It is almost beautiful.
Walk to the right, a voice says. You see megaphones in the corners of the walls, the source of the mysterious voice.
You follow the yellow line -yellow for the cons, green for the guards. You remember that much because the first guard told you that if you were in the green you would catch a beating. Same if you saw a guard and didn’t put your hands down your pants.
The yellow line leads to the elevator.
Step inside, the voice says.
Your paranoia tingles as you inch your way inside the enormous steel box. Despite your recent exposure to steel and boxes, you are still unsure.
Step inside, the voice says, this time with a hint of agitation in it.
You follow the directions, but questions swirl around you: Are they taking me downstairs to kill me?
The doors close, leaving you with your thoughts.
* * * * *
Between the chaos of his parents’ divorce, he lived between two houses that couldn’t have been more different: a crackhouse—but a really clean, well kept one—and his grandparents’, a shrine to all things Christian that clashed hard with his messy and defiant personality. He dealt with death more times than a child his age should. To this day, he says this had no effect on him, but in his deepest of dreams, and then in the truth of his writing, you can see otherwise. His father flees to another land; not that he was ever there to begin with.
His grades in everything but English are very poor. His teachers speak of his “potential,” but words like that are meaningless to a broken boy. How could he remember the names of Columbus’ boats when he was forgetting his father’s face? How could he figure out subtraction when he was busy figuring a way to steal lunch boxes from the cubby holes near the back door because his mom only left him two dollars in food stamps and the cafeteria only accepts cash?
* * * * *
When they open, you are met by a guard. The first human you’ve seen, and not just heard, since you were put in your cell; you almost crack a smile before remembering where you are. They are the enemy.
“Up the stairs,” he points.
In front of you are a dozen glass rooms, six on each level. They remind you of Hollywood Squares, even though the numbers are wrong. You walk up the steps, and sitting in one of the boxes, probably next to Bruce Vilanch, is your Family.
Family looks at you with a mixture of fear and sadness. There is no disappointment, only genuine concern, amplified through the simplification jail brought. It is enough to break your heart. Despite everything, Family is still there. Still supporting you. Still loving you.
You try to hold back the tears threatening to leave, but then you pick up the phone and hear the voice of Family. No anger, but love. Time meant nothing until you saw them and what your time here was doing to them. The only thing you can think about is getting out, grabbing Family and squeezing them forever, comforting them in the same way they desperately want to comfort you.
You don’t know how anyone could look at their own Family from behind glass windows and willingly put themselves in that situation again.
* * * * *
Look now, at the young boy, mud in his pockets, mud on his belly, mud deep in his blond hair, putting worms that wiggle for their lives into his mouth and chewing them. He doesn’t know any better, and will continue eating bugs until first grade, as no one sees him doing it until Ms. Nassel behind the portables. He is left alone most of the time, parents struggling with their own battles with drugs and alcohol. He doesn’t have many pleasant memories of his childhood. Fear and solitude were his caretakers.
* * * * *
See him now, stepping through the doors of justice, head clear like a babbling brook in a meadow, cleaned of all chemicals for the first time in years.
There is a path by the babbling brook with a fork in it.
The path on the right has a blackened trail and gnarled branches that look like some witch’s fingers, beckoning him to come forth. The acidic bite of chemical is so heavy in the air, he can taste it, bringing back sour memories. The fingers are calling him right back to carpetless dens of hellacious fun wrapped in mental anguish and all of the caveats that come with it. That path was going to cost him. It would cost him his life, leading him right back here, with the length of stays getting longer and longer.
The pull of the right side was great.
The left held no flowers, butterflies, rainbows, or unicorns. It was just a path. Weeds overgrowing the dirt, sunbeaten Budweiser cans half-buried, broken branches forcing you off the path a bit. There was one thing enchanting about going to the left, and that was the chance of starting fresh.
He looked back at the building, at the person he was leaving behind, and turned left.