On Friday, August 26, 2005 I discovered there was a warrant out for my arrest. The lawyer I had at the time called with instructions on how to turn myself in, be ‘processed’ (there’s a technician’s term for a truly awful experience), go to arraignment, plead not guilty and, the plan went, be released on a promise to appear. It was business as usual for my attorney, he was from a firm wired into the system, he had no concerns, I would turn myself in, he would have me home on a PTA within hours, we would go on from there, more business as usual. I, of course, had the sick feeling of being punched in the stomach by a bowling ball, but had no sense of impending doom: it was Court, the law, I was well trained to handle it as an exercise in Criminal Procedure, a logical, sensible, understandable sequence of events that would arrive at a justified conclusion in the near future. No, really.
I had that …. illusion … for almost nineteen hours. It was shattered, almost utterly (not quite, like the religion one is brought up on, one is loath to discard life long beliefs, even in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary) at 9 am the following morning when the Greenwich and State Police roared up to my door and arrested me, professing no knowledge of any agreement.
It started then, and would not end for four and one half years, I was assumed into the ‘system’ – not that I accepted there was a ‘system’ for at least another year. My introduction to reality was the three hour drive to the Greenwich Police Station, the two detectives who arrested me grinning and joking around, so happy to be nailing an attorney they could not stop prattling, exchanging verbal high-fives. Booking was predictably humiliating, but nothing compared to being put in a white plastic jumpsuit, my glasses taken, and tossed into a cell last cleaned during the Spanish-American War.
The Greenwich Connecticut Police Department is air conditioned — except the holding cells. Connecticut has a law that one arrested has to be arraigned within 24 hours — except on weekends and holidays, then it’s the next available court day. Put those two facts together, then add the following: we were in the midst of the worst heat wave of the summer; the cell consisted of a metal cot with no pillow, mattress, sheet, naked steel only; a single window down the hallway was open allowing only the humidity, around 90%, and street noises from Greenwich Avenue to waft in; the lights were never turned off; the cement floor was the consistency of molten molasses; the tap water was tepid, metallic; the food, brought in from a diner I used to go to, was clearly from the pile of refuse they had left over at the end of the day; there was nothing to look at, no one so much as walked by, sensory deprivation would have been total, if not for the honking cars and late night drunks on the Avenue.
Forty hours of that before I was packed off to court. Out of the by now disgusting jump suit and into the shorts and t-shirt I had been arrested in (no, when they arrest you, they are not going to allow you to change), leg irons on, cuffed onto a chain with the other weekend arrestees and packed into an ice cream truck. Ice Cream Truck – it is exactly what it sounds like, a squat, tinny, dark truck, split in two, a bench running down the side, the roof about three and a half feet high so the prisoners, manacled together and in legs irons, have to step up, then crouch, grope, fall, trip, pull, yank, and certainly curse together to sit, finally, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, knee to knee in a space intended for eight moderately large men, maximum. (By the way, if any further evidence on the obesity epidemic in the United States is required, I can certainly provide it. I am 6’1″, weigh 190 and was drawfted on every trip, I was chained with men whose beer bellies are bigger than I am). We were, of course, stuck in traffic for an hour on I95, in 100 degree heat, the air conditioning, if indeed the truck had ever had any, was broken, though the vents did allow truck fumes to pour in with impunity.
The arraignment was anticlimactic, if anything that lasts for ninety seconds can be categorized as such. I shuffled into a packed courtroom, ‘my attorney’ was a substitute I now met for the first time and who immediately went into a more than passable impersonation of a deer in headlights; some assistant to the assistant state’s attorney explained to the Judge that as it was “a big vacation week”, none of the original parties (except me, though he did not point that out) were available, no one knew anything about a deal for me to turn myself in, no one knew anything about a promise to appear, it was best to “hold off on anything until September 27th”, and I should be remanded to County Jail until a new bail hearing could be convened.
My lawyer tried to interject several times, he was as effective as a possum waving down a speeding car in the dead of night. I was exhausted, starving, unshaven, sweaty, reeking, in black shorts and a beat-to-hell Patriots shirt, and I was feeling sorry for him. At least until the moment I was dragged out by the handcuffs cutting into my wrists, tossed into a holding cell to await transport to Bridgeport CCC.
Thus the arraignment process if one is unlucky enough to approach it up the back elevators escorted by marshals rather than through the front door like a human being.