A Few Days in a California Jail
The day started early and went along like many an ideal hitchhiking day has in the past, even into the night like a dream with travel magic at the forefront, but like a dream it came to an end. Also like a dream there's details I can't recall, fuzzy memories and an unexplained black patch of time that landed me in jail with hefty charges, I wasn't dreaming anymore.
Like I say, all started well, I was coming off spending a few days in a Phoenix suburb with two great friends catching up on a years worth of stories and talking about hiking and camping gear - they'd done 1,600 or more of hiking the past year and I'd recently been designing up a hybrid backpacking shelter gizmo of a project.
I'd hitchhiked to Phoenix from California, coming off a four month adventure with Bridget around the US and Mexico. She'd flown back to Australia the previous Sunday (April 1, 2012), I'd dropped her off at the airport, borrowing my sister's car, then spending the night with a couch surfer in Hollywood.
I'd hitched a ride out of downtown Hollywood somehow the next morning, my first solo ride in months, then caught another ride from an ex-Marine who got me to I-10, then major east-west interstate. I met some other idle hitchhiker there wanting to get to Texas. He'd seemed to have given up on hitchhiking for the moment though, "I'm waiting for a train to come along and I'm gonna hop that bitch!", he told me. I was just happy that I could take over the spot.
I got my ride to Phoenix, an 18 wheeler truck pulled over. The driver had pants on his lap, not actually on, he was a skinny older guy. We cruised, "you get wired, son?", he asked. I could guess what he meant and declined. We stopped at a rest area so he could, he hopped in the back and started doing his thing. He offered his meth to me again, "It gets you really horny!", he told me.
Bah, I'd been there before with these sexual advances, long enough to know that he wasn't an asshole or the aggressive type, just putting out pretty strong feelers. In fact he was injecting the meth via needle into his ball sack, "because parole officers don't check there". He was old and handy enough with his meth that I wasn't concerned in the least, just eager to get rolling again, soon we were. Meth truckers are move move move, functional anyway.
We kept cruising, stopping for diesel fuel and pausing at a truck stop on route where he offered me meth (again) and chicken tenders. I accepted the latter and we kept rolling until I was hopping out near Phoenix where my friend Molly came and picked me up.
Anyhow, on went the few Arizona days I mentioned catching up with my friends and geeking out on gear and all, then Friday came along. My friends dropped off on the I-10 freeway with a whole day ahead of me, a bagel and green tea fresh in my system. I started walking down the onramp to the main freeway to expose my thumb to more traffic, before I got all the way down a white jeep spotted me and I sprinted 50 yards or so to catch up to him pulling over. I tossed my pack in the backseat next to a black lab and we were off.
The guy driving was on his way to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the same trail that my friends had done the 1,600 miles of and we'd been talking about for days, I knew right away this was one of those good travel days where thinks would sync up.
My destination was my brother's place on the California coast in time for Easter Sunday, this being a Friday I knew I had some leeway in getting there which was good considering the spaghetti of Southern California's freeway system which can pose a logistical issue for most hitchhikers. The guy driving was coming from Maine, free and easy cruising along with no set plan other than the trail and a loose idea of getting an apartment or otherwise some months after, perhaps in southern California, perhaps not. We rolled into Indio near where he figured the trail crossed near and also a road headed south towards San Diego and so forth where I wanted to go. I caught a huge break in that he drove me through town to where the road broke away, saving me potentially a couple hours of walking.
I walked just a little alongside the road and quickly got picked up by an older guy heading up the big hillside switchbacks giving us a good view of everything as we shared stories of Australia where his wife was from and currently visiting for a couple weeks.
He dropped me off in a spot I'd been before, I'd gotten the same ride a year or so back from a guy who owned a cafe there, the sign was still up, but the guy now told me they were closed. That last particular time I'd stood near this cafe, Kirby had driven by me going the opposite way towards Joshua Tree for a music festival, the same Kirby I'd just been hanging out with near Phoenix.
Anyways, I got a ride in no time from a couple in a van that only took me about two miles up the road to a spot where they said I'd have better luck, they'd happened to have just dropped someone off at the Pacific Crest Trail as well and thought I might be heading that way to and got turned around. I walked a little ways alongside the road from there until the next car pulled over, from what I could tell it was father and son, the son didn't talk much from the passenger seat, but that father told me he was heading to San Marcos to pick up his other son. I'd taken note of a brewery near there recommended to me by the folks at Stone Brewery, so I saw it as a sign to go check it out.
We cruised along with good conversation, it turned to weed as many conversations do hitchhiking in California, he was a grower with some experience and was telling me about it. He'd made some sort of concentrated hash he simply called "goo", after a second of trying to explain it to me he instead asked me to pass him a green backpack from the backseat, he fumbled with it for a second and pulled out a little dish with a thin honey colored layer of very thick "goo". He scraped off a ball half the size of a pea to let me feel as he explained how he made it and the best way to smoke it, and in turn said I could keep the ball. When he dropped me off he asked if I had any pot, I didn't, so he grabbed an envelope with some buds in it so I could try smoking the goo on top at some point. I wrapped the goo in a little piece of balloon he gave me and balled that into a napkin in my back pocket and slipped the envelope in my bag.
I was now just five miles from the brewery, I attempted to hitch for a bit, but figured it wouldn't kill me to walk the hour there instead on the side roads instead. I did that, occasionally dragging my thumb behind me just in case someone wanted to stop. They didn't, but I made it to the complex where the brewery was, it was called Mother Earth Brewing. I walked in, the first little room had containers of grain and a little side room revealing that it was also a home brew shop, next I walking by a fridge full of hops and yeast, my mind was already spinning.
The brewery was fairly packed, it wasn't a big space, no seats and the bar was in the brewery facility itself, people leaned up against fermentation tanks and such laughing and carrying on. I found a spot next to some big bags of grain where I nestled my backpack and began to read over the beer menu on the wall, my smile growing with every word I read. I settled on a stout that looked tasty and got a pint and then wandered to the hop cooler. The selection was great and I knew I had to get some, my brother had the gear to brew and there couldn't be any better way to show up for Easter than with all the ingredients for a tasty brew.
The younger guy behind the counter said he could help me put the recipe together when I was ready. I knew I wanted to take advantage of the hop selection, I grabbed another pint of a new beer and looked more carefully, slowly conjuring up the blend of hops to use, I wanted to go over the top. Simcoe, Amarillo and Warrior I figured, top of the line in my mind and a good amount of them. Knowing my brother wasn't as huge an IPA fan I was (India Pale Ale usually meaning all about hops) I decided to do some sort of red ale with a little more character that could still pull off the hop usage, now I knew the yeast to pick.
I grabbed a third beer as my second went empty, the young guy at the counter had vanished so I asked the guy there now if he could help, he turned out to be the head brewer there. I told him what I was going for and he pecked away on the computer and racked his brain and came up with a recipe he printed and we tweaked, then went and poured a bucket of extract and one by one went to different grain containers and weighed out the perfect amount of each.
We were talking beer obviously and I mentioned that my brother and myself are usually going for the porter style, he recommended I try the porter there at the brewery, so while he bagged up my ingredients and put them to the side, I grabbed what I figured to be my farewell beer, the sun was all but down and I'd have one last shot of catching another ride, or at least scoping out a place to camp by this time.
The crowd was getting thicker and I stood among it with a grin enjoying the beer in hand and mostly thinking about the deliciousness that awaited bagged up at the counter. A girl struck up a conversation with me, the typical "Where are you from?" question had me responding with a finger pointed through the crowd to my backpack tucked away and a short explanation of things. Another guy came over I'd had a brief interaction with while waiting for one of my last beers to be poured, he was friends with the girl. As it turned out she lived up by Dana Point and next thing I knew she was offering me a place to stay the night and a ride to Oceanside or Dana Point in the morning (my brother would be in one or the other, he's from Dana Point, but sometimes stays near Oceanside with his girlfriend). All was perfect.
They even got me a beer and we chatted for a while laughing and talking beer and the like. The lights came up and last call was announced, being that this was a brewery and not a bar it was still somewhere around 8pm or so. I scooped up my backpack and paid my tab and for my precious hops, grain and yeast, loaded it into her car and we were off. This is where things began getting fuzzy.
In some amount of time we were at someone's house, not hers, maybe the other guy, there were four or five of us. I'm sure there was more beer involved, homebrew even, laughter and conversation for sure and I'm pretty sure a little fire on a back patio we stood around. The pot from my earlier driver, smoked. Things are very hazy at this point.
Next there's a memory of me tapping the breaks and changing gears to reverse in a car in the driveway. The next memory is pulling to the side of a road in a small neighborhood wondering where I was and where I was going, maybe my phone had answers, I stopped and looked at it. Next were flashing lights and an officer asking me the same questions I was asking myself, I told him the first thing that came to mind, something like, "I'm going to my brother's near Oceanside for Easter". He asked who's car it was like I was supposed to know, "My brother's girlfriends?", it seemed to make some sense, it wasn't my brother's truck for sure.
Next I was on a curb with cuffs behind my back staring at the back of this car. "You lied to me", the cop said about the car. They said it was stolen, that I'd stolen it. Now I was in the back of the cop car, remembering my new brewery friends trying to put pieces together. I gathered it was one of their cars and I was being accused of stealing it.
"I couldn't possibly steal a car", I told the officer as we rode, "it doesn't even make sense". I tried explaining what I knew, how they'd showed me a good night and were giving me a ride to where I needed to go in the morning, that my backpack was still at their house because it wasn't with me now and my backpack contained everything I own, it would be foolish to steal a car and leave all other worldly possessions behind, not to mention a passport and more that would make me so identifiable. I was confused, maybe the cop was too. I didn't know if they'd asked me to go grab something at the store, I had no idea, just a black hole in my drunken memory.
He took me out of the back of the squad car once we got to the station and emptied my pockets on the hood before dragging me off. Out popped the napkins from my back pocket, one with the blue balloon protruding slightly, small ball of pot goo inside. I wondered what the consequences of that would be, or if they'd even find it, or know what the hell it was if they did. I was dragged off inside with it sitting there, as I would come to find out, it would luckily be ignored or treated like trash, a booger in a tissue or grease or some such.
Now I was being plugged into the system, transferred from one holding room to the next, one set of handcuffs to another, questions and papers being filled out, stripped down naked and changed into blue sweats like the others being held. They xrayed my chest, scanned my fingers and all parts of my hand, ink on my thumb, signatures being given. At some point an officer doing some paperwork behind some glass asking me questions, another officer in the background said something along the lines of "What an idiot, stealing a car and going a few blocks away", I snapped back at him leaning over to see his face, he fired something back at me and then me back at him in the context of having him keep his remarks to himself, somehow the officer filling out my paperwork was on my side in this exchange and shot the mouthy cop a glance and he shut up.
I was in the holding tank all night and into the morning, people coming and going, swapping stories and ignorable legal advice. One guy was going off on the reptilian agenda, filling the jails and keeping mankind down. We were given paper bags with food, I could only use mine as a pillow as I lay on the floor and then a bench trying to sleep, I later found the better part of my pillow was two slices of bread and some cheese, the apple was the part I was working my head around. Somewhere in the morning I brought myself to eating it.
The cell door opened and some names were called, mine included, we we're lined up and told to face the wall, then follow the painted blue line on the floor. Winding around we each had to pick a gray mattress and a bundle that would include a couple blankets, a sheet, a towel and a small plastic bag with a comb, toothbrush and soap. They shouted at a few to head into one cell block, then to me and a couple others. The door buzzed open and I entered the room with a high ceiling, some silver tables with bolted down stools around them and cells lining the ground floor, I was told to go to cell 21, which was up the staircase to the cells lining the second floor with a bit of a balcony overlooking the room.
I stood in front of cell 21 as told, but soon the siren was blaring and a voice was berating me, indistinguishable in the soaked reverberations of the concrete cell block. I figured it meant I had to enter the cell, but there were two people in there already who got angry when I tried to enter. They pushed a button to speak into a microphone in the wall, "It's full, there's two of us in here!".
I stepped out, the siren fired twice and the tone of the voice swimming in reverb was not friendly. I couldn't tell where the man behind the microphone was who could see me disobeying unclear orders, staring into the center of the room I just said "It's full!", shrugging my shoulders, at this point all the glass windows to the cell doors were occupied by faces staring out at me, the newest inmate arriving. One motioned for me to come over to him and others were shouting, trying to translate the poor intercom system it seemed. The sirens and tone got angrier as I walked towards the one guy motioning me over, so I turned around. Finally a voice from one cell or another was able to clearly get out, "Fourteen!" and others echoed this, so I made my way down the steps and found cell fourteen which opened for me and I entered.
Inside the top bunk was empty, standing inside was a guy with long brown hair likely in his mid 40's. I got right to throwing my mattress on the top bunk and laying out the sheet.
"What are you in for?", he asked me, he looked like the stereotypical southern California homeless once-upon-a-time hippie now with a more sullen life-is-rough look; a book sat on the little table in the cell with the title "Power through Prayer" and a couple empty milk cartons were placed here and there stained with orange and other non-milk colors.
"They say I stole a car, I have to wait until Tuesday for it to all get figured out", I started climbing up on the bed exhausted, rolling one blanket up as a pillow, an upgrade from the cheese sandwich in the paper bag, "I just gotta sleep", I said hitting the mattress horizontal. He kept talking and asking questions and my answers became shorter with longer pauses in between until he finally let me fade to sleep.
Time went by mostly passed out, a ring was heard and unlatching all around as the cell doors were unlocked. My cellmate went out immediately, I could hear the others all pouring out too. I crawled off the top bunk and took a couple steps out of my cell into the main room, people were walking laps around the tables where others were breaking out decks of cards. I crawled back onto the top bunk to try and continue my needed slumber.
After some time my cellmate popped his head back in the cell, "Chow time", he told me. I came off the bunk and shuffled towards the back of the line. In his ramblings earlier he'd explained some kind of system of where people could and shouldn't sit, blacks and white and Mexicans and separate tables or some such, all I took from it was I should probably try to sit at his table. I was the last to grab my tray and there was an empty seat across from him, so that's where I sat, looking down as I peeled the plastic off the tray and ate down some pasta, only looking behind me a couple times at the TV that was nothing more than flashing colors to me.
I returned to my cell immediately after and soon the siren rang once and we were locked down again, I slept while my cellmate intermittently talked to me, even while taking a dump on the toilet in the small cell. The etiquette for shit taking was to flush constantly, a powerful flush that whooshed down sounding like an airplane taking off.
After some time the cells were unlocked again. I wandered towards the middle of the room, I eyed the telephones on the wall, one being used. Right at that time a blonde guy with piercing eyes came right up to me, asking my name and if I was new.
"That big guy over there thinks he's in charge, but he's not", he told me. "Are you a Christian?", he asked, I told him I wasn't, "Well God is the only one who's in charge of you, no one else", he was looking directly into and through my eyes. "Cell 17, the tall guy, Lance, he's the one really in charge of this block, don't be fooled", he pointed behind me, I didn't care and didn't look, it didn't matter. "If you need help with anything, you just let me know", he said.
I got him to explain how the phones worked, a matter of entering the code from my wrist band and a pin number derived from my birthday. I went over to the phone right away, my brother would be expecting me for Easter, or really earlier this day, but I didn't have his number memorized. The only number I did have memorized was my mother's back in Connecticut, so I called that, but the collect lady recording said the call couldn't go through or be accepted. It seemed my brother and anybody else who noticed I was missing would have to be in the dark a few more days.
Back to the cell, sleeping again, out one more time so they could scan my wrist band, then back to bed again. Eventually the light was dimmed slightly and all got relatively quiet as I went back into the dream world best I could again.
Lights came on early in the morning, soon there was a buzz and the doors were unlocked as people started filing out lining up for breakfast. I munched through it quickly and was back in cell immediately chasing more dreams.
The cells were unlocked again later, I mostly remained inside hoping sleep would last longer, but sometimes stepping just outside the cell or wandering to the pile of uninteresting books that seemed to grow and shrink throughout the days.
My name was called along with a few others at one point early on, "Visitors" they said. They lined us up and marched us outside towards the steps to the glass windows where I could see my brothers face looking through, his "you dumbass" smile, I was happy to see it.
He explained that while the phone call to my mom the night before hadn't gone through, she'd seen the number and looked it up discovering it was the jail, gave them a ring and discovered I was on the inside. My brother told me they were looking for a lawyer and she was thinking of flying out, I told him that wasn't the best idea. I explained what happened and all that I knew for him to relay on, at the time knowing just that I had two felony charges that I assumed were stealing a car and being wasted behind the wheel.
We didn't talk all that long, I let him get back to Easter with our sister and his girlfriend, I walked down the stairs and got the attention of a guard who unlocked the doors for me, back into the cell block.
That night I gave the phone another shot and managed to get through to my mom, avoiding saying too much not knowing how the law worked and with the conversation being recorded and all. She explained that they'd found a lawyer who was going to do what he could, which if nothing else, would result in a pretty sizable debt for me to pay back.
Earlier in the day during lock down they'd buzzed our cell, "Johnson, pack up your stuff, you're getting out of here". Few times can you witness the surprised smile of this nature, "What? Wow!", his chilled out nature morphed into frantic ecstacy as he started looking around the cell and folding up his mattress, "They must have dropped the charges... they must have dropped the charges! Wow, OK... what do I need?", he said to himself, nothing worth keeping in this cell I figured.
They buzzed him out into the wide open cell block, other guys shouting down to him and him back to them, "They must have dropped the charges, I'm going home!", he waited for a bit before they took him out and he was gone.
The day dragged on, I enjoyed the empty cell for a while, still trying to squeeze in some sleep.
The next morning came early again, breakfast, back to the cell for bed. They opened the doors again later in the morning and I came out just for a stretch, then closing the door back into my cell not knowing it would lock behind me. I found that out later when I wanted to step out again, but didn't really care that it was locked, I wasn't going anywhere, really.
A guy appeared later outside the door with a bed roll knocking on the door, my new cellmate. "It's locked", I shouted through to him.
"Hit the buzzer", he pointed at the intercom, "tell them to unlock it".
I hit the button, "What?", the voice said.
"Hey, I'm locked in here", I told him.
"Awesome", said the guard on the other end. I looked at the new cellmate through the door and kind of shrugged, then crawled back on the top bunk.
Soon enough it was chow time again, I was still locked in. The guy on the other end came knocking again, "It's chow time, tell them you need out", this time they unlocked it, letting him get settled inside and me out for chow.
We didn't talk much, I didn't talk much or at all to anyone. The day dragged on some more, between lock downs, sleep, trying to sleep and staring at stains on the wall imagining them into creatures or anything of entertainment.
The next morning came, Tuesday, court day. I'd had another call with my mom and got the rundown, the lawyer was getting in touch with the people who'd called the car stolen, the hope was they'd drop the charges and all would be settled.
I asked my cell mate about the shower situation, it was a single stall on the upper level, I made my way and got cleaned up finally. Breakfast went by, then eventually myself and a group of others were called and herded through the labyrinth and eventually poured into another holding cell with others waiting for court, sharing legal advice, stories and hopes of getting out. After some time my name was at last called and I was escorted to a little room with three seats with windows between where my lawyer soon appeared.
He explained that he'd gotten the two felony charges removed in exchange for a misdemeanor for "receiving stolen property". He'd gotten statements from the people I'd partied with and the cops who arrested me and all, he said he'd try to track down my backpack as well which could be anywhere. "Let's get you out of here, shall we?", he stood up and I waited a while until I was taken off somewhere else and cuffed, then escorted into the court room, people wearing brighter clothes, their own clothes, shuffling through papers or chatting, the judge above them all.
The lawyer went and talked to some other lawyers types, then came over to me right as the judge was ramping up to get my case going. He asked for a minute given the conversation he'd just had, so she moved to the next case while he took me into a little glass structure to talk about the deal they'd just worked out.
The deal was I plead guilty to the misdemeanor and get a fine and a few years of probation which wouldn't involve checking in or actually doing anything, just meant if I were to ever get in trouble again during that time it could be worse. I'd also get to leave the jail that day, this seemed better than dragging out the whole thing and turning up to court more times and paying this guy even more money.
I signed my name a dozen times or more and we got in front of the judge with the whole thing. As it turned out, my time spent in jail negated the fine, so I was off the hook there. The judge indicated I'd be getting out today, but not until late, for whatever reason.
I parted with the lawyer and courtroom scene and was escorted out, "Hell of a vacation in California, you got to see something most people don't", the guard said as he lead me down the hallway.
"Chalk it up to a new experience", I said as he uncuffed me and put me back into the holding cell with others eager to hear my story and read on the judge. I waited in there a while longer then it was back to the cell block. My cell mate saw me and asked how it went, I told him I was going home apparently tonight. The look on his face was a reflection of the time he still had ahead of him.
I munched down one last dinner and the hours started creeping by slower than ever. The clock on the far wall was well passed what my cellmate said was the normal release time. "Nothing is right here, you can't get settled into anything, always different times and it doesn't make any sense. We shouldn't be locked down for so long, there's no reason we can't all be out there now", for some reason we were on lock down in our cells for what seemed like a long time, no sign of being let out until morning. "It's all a big racket, about money, they ship people from one jail to another because they get paid transfer fees for each prisoner each time, there's no reason people need to be shuffled around."
He went on telling me how this was one of the nicer spots and he'd been shuffled around quite a bit. "The guy in here with you before me is getting shipped down to San Diego, there always moving people". That was a thing to hear, he'd been so happy thinking he was going home, he wasn't going home, just leaving this jail for another so they could make another buck and mess with his head for kicks in the process.
Sometime late the intercom buzzed in our cell, "Flannery, you in there?"
"Yes I am", I shouted back, but that was the end of it. More than an hour dragged on until the buzzed again, "Flannery, get your stuff rolled up", I did it quick and waited close to another hour still until they buzzed the door open and told me to wait in the main cell block room. I got some shouts from the cells, "You going home?", and that sort. One guy asked me for some toilet paper, the guys in the cell next to him passed some under the door and had me pass it through the other door. Then he asked for more, then someone across the cell block asked for some too. I was fairly certain they were just having a good fuck with, but I went ahead and ran the toilet paper to the other door and actually got the first good smile in a while at my own expense.
At last they buzzed open the cell block door and lined us up and marched us along, into another cell where a guy sat at a window asking our names and returning our clothes, I stripped out of the sweats and cozied back into my own clothes feeling a little more free, but still we waited a while in this holding cell. We got moved to another one while everyone mostly complained about getting out so late and shared rumors of fights or whatever else had resulted in the huge delay.
At last we each took our turn talking to a woman giving us our property we were arrested with back, no backpack for me, no mention of it, the woman said I could go to the sheriffs office when they opened the next day to figure that out. A little longer we waited while the others talked of the joints they'd smoke, the women they'd see, or kill in one guys case, and at last they opened the gate and couple people who'd been there before went sprinting and shouting as they ran up the long ramping hallway to the outside world.
I walked up and out under the midnight sky. I got my phone turned on and sent a text message to my brother assuming it was too late to get picked up, I started wandering the area contemplating whether I'd sleep a cool night or burn time drinking coffee in a 24 hour diner. I paced around a bit thinking of all this when my brother called, tired, but on his way to pick me up.
We sleepily cruised back to his girlfriend's house where I promptly fell out on the couch, feeling free again, but still wondering where my backpack could be and what the coming days would bring.