This one is a direct memory - my one weekend spent behind bars. It was the Santa Clara County jail and the cell a holding cell full of convicts mainly waiting for release at end of sentence served. I was twenty-one and had been walking down the street late at night on a Friday night with two other people. One guy was holding some marijuana. I was clean in all ways having just visited my sister, recently back from her time in Persia (Iran). We were both students at San Jose State. This was January, 1967.
The cell was stacked with double bunks four deep down one side and three the other. There was not much room between the bunks side to side but enough to walk up and down the aisle, an open toilet and sink at the end of the room taking the space of the fourth bunk on that side. We were let out only for meals. Every bunk was taken. The front face was a wall of bars. Fourteen people in the cell probably designed for four at the most.
At the time I was living on the streets of San Jose, the south side of the San Jose State campus. I was underfed and fairly well stoned most days, all day. They say of jail, three hots and a cot. That was certainly true for me that weekend. At the interview, the officer was angry with me for not saying much about what we were doing (but there really wasn't much to say) on the streets so late with one guy holding dope. We actually were walking back to that guy's rooming house where I was crashing in the spare bed in his room. I don't know what the third guy was doing with us, just hanging out. The angry officer got in my face and that's really what he said to me - that I was on the path to Sing Sing. I thought he was crazy. Sing Sing is near Ossining, New York.
Monday morning I was released. I had been booked into jail, but there was no business for me in court at all. Other than that brief encounter with the interviewer, I had no direct encounters with cops or guards the rest of the weekend. I am sad to say not so my friend who had given me a place to crash. I know he had earned trouble from the pot in his pocket.
A Weekend Getaway
Pacing like tigers
do, up and down the short walk
from stone wall to bars
and back, wearing down
the cold cold gray concrete floor
between the convict
bunks, two high, careful
not to poke the idling men
beside me waiting
for what's coming next.
I'm told I'm headed for Sing
Sing but even I
know that's New York
and we're in California.
July 29, 2010 9:44 PM
The rest of the story - what happened to me amongst those terrible county jail convicts was nothing at all. All was peaceful. One guy was proud of the purse he was going to give his girlfriend, woven of Pall Mall cigarette package covers. You might know that special dark red with white print. I met another young man who it turned out I had met one other time, a day when he visited relatives who lived next door to my family's rental on King Street in Santa Cruz. That was several years earlier, 1957, when I was in sixth grade. We knew this was right because the two houses shared a special land feature between them, a pond and drainage creek of concrete leading to an underground flow at the sidewalk of the street and beyond. There was nothing like that elsewhere up and down the street, so it had to be us. I have never known what to make of that chance meeting. I didn't go to Sing Sing, nor to any other jail at all. I got close, I think, a few years later but was never even booked. The story of that night is a whole other thing.
The Santa Clara County Jail main web site has this to say:
"The Santa Clara County Department of Correction is the fifth largest jail system in California, and among the 20 largest systems in the United States. Our jail is among the 100 systems nationwide with an inmate population of more than 1,000."