There is a saying for when circumstances of an event become so bizarre as to challenge the imagination; to the effect: “You just can’t make this shit up.” I am now testimony to the power of that phrase, and it all happened on my way to Houston recently, to participate in a countermeasure task force to battle human trafficking.
It was in the country squire estate-hood of the venerable Tucumcari, New Mexico. Just a scant few miles west of the border with the great state of Texas, as I clearly recall. As it were, the First Daughter and I were traveling just behind a tractor-trailer rig, that suddenly changed lanes to our left, revealing a state Highway Patrol car there on the shoulder, lights flashing as he issued a citation.
A quick scan of my mirrors as I released my pressure on the gas showed there was no room in the left lane, the big-rig having taken some six car lengths for itself. Well past the incident now, I resumed normal speed. A mirror glance showed the trooper had cut his lights, pulled back into traffic, and then engaged his lights again.
Ah, I shall pull over and let him by, I shall! And I did. But what to my wondering eyes should I see, but a highway patrolman, coming right at me.
It’s anyone’s guess; it’s a crap-shoot at this point why he is pulling me over. I fussed to get my license and papers ready to present. Indeed, our policeman was irate over an umpire who called his kid out at home during the game last night; he had after all been safe. Yes SAFE… Ray Charles could see that he had been safe!!
“Well Sir, you see I…”
“License and registration!!” and I passed those over the tough-selfed him.
He proceeded back to his cruiser to process my fate while Daughter and I made small talk. “I’ll need you to come back to the cruiser with me and sign some paperwork.” returned the officer. Upon arrival at the cruiser the cop proceeded to inform me:
“Ok I’m going to be honest with you, the reason I called you back here is I’m going to be placing you under arrest for driving with a license that has been revoked.”
I have to hand it to this guy; he really has a great poker face. “Ha ha ha… Ok Matt, the joke is up; come out from behind the cruiser… Nic, you guys really got me, come on out now, ha ha!!”
But this was no joke. The cop slapped cuffs on me and began stuffing me in the tiny compartment behind the passenger seat. The distraught First Daughter came running up, incredulous and begging the officer to stop and insisting that he was making a mistake. “We are on our way to Houston to train law enforcement officers to hunt human traffickers!! She pleaded. “Not now, hon… not now, just go back to the truck and follow us to the station.” I directed.
The officer gave her the one-liner directions to get to the station on her own, and she left. Then the first of a multitude of oddities began: He drove the cruiser into the drainage swale that separated the eastbound lane from the west bound lane, drove a few seconds west, then circled back around through the swale, right back where we started from.
He drove quickly. The swale was deep, so it launched me out of my seat, striking my head on the roof of the cruiser, and cracked my neck sharply. There was nothing to hold onto with my hands cuffed. I wrapped seatbelt around and around my hands to try to keep my head from striking the roof.
He exited the cruiser, walked several hundred meters along the shoulder of the highway, back to the cruiser, and repeated the entire process again: quickly though the swale, head smacks roof, back down the westbound lane, back through the swale, CRACK, back to the starting point, and walk the shoulder of the road.
We did this four times. Now, I had never been arrested (in New Mexico) before, so I had no idea what to expect; I just figured that this simply was just what it was like to be under arrest in New Mexico. After four iterations of this lane-changing, head-cracking, circle of the highway lanes… it was beginning to get dark. The First Daughter was sitting in the dark at the police station crying.
“I’m going to be honest with you (yes, every sentence he spoke to me began this way), I lost your driver’s license.” So, that was the reason for his nutty race tracks. He switched on his flashlight and resumed his foot search. I watched the light beam sweep back and forth, cross the highway and continue to sweep. Finally he returned.
“I found it!”
“I’m sure you mother would be very proud.”
“What was that?”
“I said: good work, officer!”
And so it went.
At the station I was cuffed to a metal bench. I watched as the officer went from desk to desk, trying to get computers to work. I observed the dry erase board, which had the obvious makings of a plan scrawled on it for an assault on an objective. Ah, yes… 270 Main Street was the address. The assault, or ‘entry’ as they called it, would be happening the next night, according to the date/time group annotated at the top of the board.
By the schematic, I could see that they had four men going in through the front door, and another team of four men would be making an entry on the back side. The names of the officers were jotted next to each circle that appeared in rows depicting the lineup. I could see that ‘Maverick’ was issued the hooligan tool; an iron multi-purpose manual breaching tool that had a crowbar configuration on one end, and a spike/hammer combination on the other. I reckon that pending assault plans are ok to post on a whiteboard where prisoners can see them. I mean, any input is welcome to their assault planning, right? But then I have never been arrested (in New Mexico) before, and as far as I know, this is just what it is like to be arrested in New Mexico.
I was taken to the hospital emergency room to get medications that the First Daughter had declared to the front desk. We picked those up, and I was taken to central lockup.
“Not to worry, your father will be held alone in a temporary detention room. He can rest and maybe go for a walk in the yard if he wants… but mostly just chill out until arraignment tomorrow.” I heard the officer assure the First Daughter.
The desk Sergeant frisked me again where I sat cuffed again, but this time to a much nicer metal bench bolted to the floor.
“WHAT’S THIS??” roared the Sergeant.
“Fuck if I know, I was already patted down by the arresting!” I defended.
Oh dear me… the Sergeant pulled out an LED flashlight and my Emerson Kershaw locking-blade assisted-draw pocket knife. “Well fuck me runnin’ in the rain…” I thought.
The desk Sergeant scowled the scowl of scowls at me. What the hell was I supposed to say? But he stood there waiting for me to say something.
“Is that absolutely the meanest face you can make, Sergeant?” His expression changed to rage.
“I didn’t know it was in there. I thought the arresting officer took it; it’s NOT my fault!” I postulated.
Alas I was stripped and searched and issued my orange wear, simple and unassuming as it was, it made a statement still. I cradled my blankets and prison-issue items in my arms. At last… at least I will be able to relax alone in my detention room and maybe even doze a bit until my arraignment tomorrow, I reveled.
Finally I stood before the large steel door of ‘Cell Block B; B as in boy’. Block? Why Block? I though that… and the Corrections Officer (CO) threw open the door. A hot and humid blast of stinking air slapped me in the face. The CO shoved me through and slammed the door behind me. I was in General Population, or ‘Gen-Pop’ as they called it. Welcome to Oz!
Fifteen shirtless Eses sat or stood about the two floors of Cell Block B (as in boy). Fifteen sets of ese’ eyes drilled into the one set of gringo eyes standing at the closed-door of Cell Block B, as in ‘oh-boy!’ The one gringo on the block stood blinking his gringo eyes, and cradling his gringo prison issue, clad in his bright prison orange wear; that orange, that was the new black.
Goddamnit, I should have expected as much. Mother fucker… this is EXACTLY what I did NOT want to happen. I mean, I didn’t even LOOK like a bad dude in my way-too-short orange trousers, and my way-too-long orange jersey, whose sleeves hung down past the tips of my fingers like a kid wearing his dad’s shirt. Even my Goddamned plastic sandals… one was way huge, and the other was too small and torn almost in half, such that it dragged and tripped me as I walked.
The fifteen ese’s gawked and scratched themselves, waiting for me to do or say some gringo thing. There wasn’t a single one of them that didn’t have full tatt sleeves, chest plates, and you name it. I saw Latin Kings, MS-13, Noreños, Sureños, and just… eños! They say in the movies in such an environment you are supposed to go up to the biggest guy in the room and knock him out and take his stuff. Ok, well there were at least two things right there that were not going to happen anytime soon.
My dad always said: “Always try to talk yourself down from situations first.” Thanks dad; you were never in jail and you ain’t here now…!”
“Me falta una cama.” (I need a bed) I finally declared. My statement was met with still fifteen sets of blinking ese’ eyes, but from heads that were slightly farther away, as they were taken aback by my Spanish.
“Hacia arriba.” (Upstairs) came an answer. I looked dolefully at the long flight of concrete steps leading up to the top floor.
“Ya no puedo; mis rodillos…” (I can’t; my knees) and I gestured to my knees. Another ese who was sitting at the metal picnic-style table that was bolted firm to the concrete floor pointed to an open cell, with a man fast asleep. I dropped my things on the floor there.
“Hey did you get dinner this evening? Are you hungry?” asked one of the inmates. He pushed a buzzer near the door before I could answer and ordered a CO to bring the new guy a plate of food for his missed dinner. Well, that was nice I guess. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.
But as soon as the CO brought the plate in, laid it down, and closed the door… everyone at the table reached a hand over and clawed a helping of food from the now empty plate. This I observed from where I sat on the floor of my cell. I got up and took a place at the table, in front of my empty plate. I poured myself a cup of water, and watched the news in Spanish from the TV that blared above, just out of reach of us inmates.
(continued with part II)