What happened to Freddie Gray? I have no idea. Obviously. I do, however, have an inkling. As would anyone ever transported by police, sheriffs, marshals, Correctional Officers, or any one else in law enforcement who transports more than one prisoner at a time.
In Connecticut, the DOC transports inmates with court dates to local jails for parceling out to the courts. They use buses and vans. Connecticut State Marshals move inmates from jails to the courts. They use the Ice Cream Truck. AKA, the Plea Bargain Express.
The Ice Cream Truck is exactly what it sounds like, it is one of these:
Turned into one of these:
A squat, tinny, dark truck, split into two sections by a sheet metal wall etched with graffiti going back to first Bush Administration. Low metal benches run along both sides; the roof is about three and a half feet high. Inmates are manacled together in legs irons, cuffed with the cuff chained around their backs so they cannot move their arms more than a few inches.
To get into the truck, inmates have to find a way to step up on the bumper, then step into the back while crouching. The truck moves with the weight, the metal, studded floor groans – if wet it wails. Over half a ton of human flesh, chained, has to move together, crouch, grope, fall, trip, pull, yank, across the bench.
The best way to do it is to sit as soon as the tension – real and metaphorical – in the chain allows. The bench is polished to a high sheen by generations of asses sliding over it – pushing across it is like mercury flying over the surface of a mirror. Push, push, along on the bench until everyone’s in, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, knee to knee. Twelve, thirteen men in a space intended for eight moderately large men – from the Depression Era.
The highly polished bench is a major problem the second the truck moves. There’s no way to anchor against the truck’s momentum, motions, stopping, acceleration, decelerating – the friction-less surface proves any number of the laws of physics. The best way to not get thrown all over the place is to brace your feet against the divider. It bends on contact, booms, echoes in the space, you can feel the guys on the other side doing the same.
There’s no lights, the air conditioner up front never works. There are no windows, a few air-holes. I’ve been stuck on I-95 during a summer heat wave, sweating buckets, inhaling truck fumes, vision dimming. No air circulation even at speeds up to 80. On one trip, seconds after being strip searched and loaded on, the two inmates at the end of the chain produced a joint, a AAA battery and a wire and lit up. Their accomplishment should not be so much attributed to their ingenuity as to the work ethic of the COs on duty.
It’s hell. It can be made even worse whenever the marshals are so inclined – for whatever reason. Starting and stopping unnecessarily, changing lanes violently in sharp, lurching, turns, taking the long way home. That’s right, great Supertramp song, absolutely hideous experience.
August, 2009, a trip from Rockville to Suffield was routed through downtown Hartford. In the middle of rush hour. On the day of a downtown festival of some sort. Stop and go traffic for all of the 15 miles we went out of our way. Hot outside, steaming inside. Breathing super-heated air along with exhaust fumes, we finally pulled into the Hartford courthouse. Where we sat . . . and sat . . . and sat. Marinating in our own sweat.
Somewhere in there, a guy at the end announced to our half of the truck, “Man, one a you motherfuckers really pissed someone off.” That motherfucker was me. I was suing the state for my release, it had been strongly suggested in my pre-trial conference hours earlier that I perhaps, maybe, might be better off dropping the matter. I kept that to myself. The marshals came back to the truck, started it up and we lurched out into total gridlock. Nobody had gotten on, nobody had gotten off the truck in the hour and twenty minutes we sat. I know the time perfectly, because I had nothing better to do while sweating bullets but to look at my Timex Iron Man watch.
Horrible. A couple of rides like that and you’d be willing to cop to being on the Grassy Knoll.
But it can be worse. Much worse. That’s when there’s only a few men on the truck. A short line shackled together. Because then there’s absolutely no way to brace, protect yourself against the forces of the truck. The polished bench is the enemy, intent at slamming you at terminal velocity into … everything. Cuffed, shackled, without the weight of the others, without the sardine can closeness of a full bench, you are a missile in a sheet metal tube.
It’s terrifying and it really hurts. I saw a picture of the truck the poor kid in Baltimore was thrown into, cuffed behind his back. I can only imagine his ride. Which probably accounts for my nightmares this week.
By the way, almost everybody transported this way has been convicted of no crime. Like they say, real inmates ride buses.